While millions of Americans are paying on student loan debts and the nation debates how to manage the student loan crisis, a local business is working to ensure its employees don't become part of that statistic by prioritizing tuition assistance and student-friendly scheduling.
Just this year, employees with the Love Organization's McDonald's restaurants have received nearly $80,000 in college tuition through the Archways to Opportunity program--139 of the franchise's employees have received nearly $230,000 in tuition assistance since the program's inception in 2015.
More than $63 million in high school and college tuition assistance has been awarded to more than 40,000 eligible employees at U.S. McDonald's restaurants as part of the program.
Director of Operations Michael Love, who oversees the franchise's 10 restaurants in western Kentucky and southern Illinois, said participation within his organization is above average in comparison with other franchise and corporate restaurants because they make it a priority.
When the program started, the general manager of the Hinkleville Road location in Paducah had the idea of going store-to-store explaining the program to the employees and encouraging participation--which is something they still do, Love said. And as employees have reaped the benefits of the program, more and more employees are signing on.
Logan Brown, a swing manager at the McDonald's in Mayfield, will graduate from West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKCTC) in December and begin working toward his bachelors degree at Murray State University (MSU) in Jan. 2020, majoring in human resources. The 20-year-old began working for McDonald's as a 17-year-old high school student and after completing his degree aspires to continue his career with McDonald's, climbing the ladder within the local franchise.
"The Love franchise has been awesome to encourage their employees to participate in the Archways program and make them aware of it," Brown said. "It encourages employees to do better in life and that benefits us all. I appreciate the opportunities to grow and promote from within the company."
Brown said one of his co-workers is a single mom who's raising four children and because of the Archways program assisting with the cost, she's able to attend college. He said he recently recruited his 17-year-old cousin to begin working for McDonald's "and take advantage of the opportunity because college is expensive."
Love recalled an employee from the Murray store who was attending veterinary school and wanted to attend the artificial insemination course, so she enrolled in the Archways program and was able to do so. He also recalled a former employee from the Metropolis store who was able to complete cosmetology school through the Archways program, and an employee who completed aviation school through the program.
Archways doesn't just cover traditional college courses and isn't solely limited to post-secondary courses, Love explained. Through the program, employees have also been able to obtain actual high school diplomas instead of a GED, complete English as a secondary language courses, and then many continue on into a variety of technical and collegiate courses, even through certified online programs, earning training that takes them into the next phases of their careers--whether or not they stay with McDonald's. Although, he noted, many do.
Love said as the franchise grows the job opportunities grow--and although the restaurants are the focus, the franchise also has its own IT (informational technology) department and maintenance department, both of which serve all the franchise restaurants in the region. So the opportunities for employees who complete post-secondary education and want to remain within the company are not limited to restaurant management.
"And there are no strings attached," Brown explained. "It sounds like a deal that's too good to be true, but it's not. You only have to work at McDonald's for 90 days before you're eligible and you provide proof of enrollment and tuition cost. You have to take at least 15 hours a semester and then you're scheduled to work around your classes. Some kids even go away to school during the week and then come home on the weekends just to work. It's that simple."
Brown said "it feels good" to be part of a franchise that values its employees and see his teammates fulfilling their dreams.
"We're proud we can do this for the employees and make a positive difference in their lives," Love added. "Everyone needs a little boost along the way."
The Love family franchise of McDonald's took root when Michael's grandfather, Clyde Love, purchased the first store in Paducah in 1975 and moved the family from Joplin, Missouri. Later, Clyde's son, Mike, joined in the franchise as owner and operator and Michael Love will mark the third generation. The family owns 10 restaurants in western Kentucky and southern Illinois, including the locations in Benton and Draffenville.