Our Big Bet: Investing in Education Pathways for Restaurant Employees


March 29, 2018

by Melissa Kersey, Chief People Officer of McDonald’s USA.

Growing up in a small town in Arkansas, my first job was in retail. I worked hard and tried to make a difference with customers. At the time, I had no idea how that job – and the roles that came after it – would fundamentally change my outlook and career trajectory.  With the support of my team and employer, I worked my way up to be a Store Manager, Distribution Center Manager, and then on to a variety of different corporate roles. My first job was not unique, but the support I received to progress and advance in the company was. 

With that in mind, when we asked McDonald’s restaurant employees what else we could do to help them achieve their life goals, we heard about their dreams to finish high school and go to college, so they could earn a degree, advance their careers and determine their own path for success. We also heard about the barriers they face in realizing their educational goals: affordability, access and time.

All of which make the education gap statistics so startling when it’s one of the most important investments a country – and employers – can make, yet America is facing some surprising national education trends:

  • Nearly 40 million American working adults don’t have a high school diploma. 
  • By 2020, 65% of jobs will require some college education or above.
  • According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, there is an annual shortfall of 300,000 college graduates needed for the workforce, which translates to lost economic opportunity for millions of American workers.

With close to 850,000 employees in communities across the U.S., McDonald’s and its independent franchisees have a unique role to play in working to close this education gap. In 2015 we launched Archways to Opportunity. This program provides eligible employees at participating U.S. restaurants the chance to earn a high school diploma, receive upfront college tuition assistance, access free education advising services and learn English as a second language.

Today, through a $150 million allocation over the next five years, we’re expanding that program by tripling tuition assistance, lowering eligibility requirements for the program from nine months to 90 days and extending career online high school and college advisory services to restaurant employees’ family members. We are also creating an international education fund that provides local initiatives and incentives in global markets to further education advancement programs.

Why is this investment so important? When it comes to education, we believe:

  • Education helps people reach their full potential.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all solution to education.
  • Programs that work best are ones that meet people where they are.

Guided by the principle – what matters to you, matters to us – this program is matching restaurant employees’ ambition with the network and means to achieve their aspirations. Those that have graduated from our Archways to Opportunity program have received college degrees and embarked on careers in fields including accounting, business administration, communications, human resources, microbiology and more. One of my favorite aspects of my job is visiting restaurants all over the country because I get to see and hear these success stories firsthand.

Kimberly Faust of Boston is one example of the thousands of restaurant employees who took advantage of this program. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Child Development from Colby-Sawyer College. Kimberly was an employee at a McDonald’s restaurant owned and operated by the Napolis Organization for five years, including through all four years of college. Today, she is putting her hard-earned degree to work as a preschool teacher, where she is providing the next generation of workers with an important first start. In describing her experience, she shared with us, “McDonald’s provided me with the resources I needed so I could get a degree and achieve my goals while also working for a company that supports me.”

Kimberly is among the more than 24,000 McDonald’s restaurant employees who have participated in Archways to Opportunity and who have collectively benefitted from over $21 million in high school and college tuition assistance since it began just three short years ago. This level of participation and career advancement signals a strong interest and need for workforce development programs that help people achieve their dreams, no matter where they are on their personal journey. Research from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows increased educational attainment brings higher long-term earnings, higher labor force participation and lower unemployment. And that’s not just good for business, it’s good for everyone.

Today, when I’m in the restaurants and I talk to restaurant employees about their ambitions, I’m reminded of the tools, resources and opportunities that were afforded to me to make my career a reality and my distinct role and responsibility in paying that forward.

These additional investments in the Archways program – tripling tuition assistance, adding education benefits for family members and lowering eligibility requirements to 90 days – reinforces our unwavering commitment to people, their future and our shared success.

I cannot wait to see what they do next.  

Melissa Kersey is the Chief People Officer of McDonald’s USA.