Through an innovative new partnership with Purdue University Global, Papa John’s announced a new employee benefit initiative Wednesday. This new program grants Papa John’s 20,000 corporate and 70,000 franchise employees access to undergraduate and graduate studies tuition free.  

“People are our most important ingredient and we are always looking for new ways to make Papa John’s a better place to work,” Steve Ritchie, president and CEO of Papa John’s, said in a statement. “We believe this is a truly unique tuition program in our industry. We’re excited to partner with such a well-respected institution to help us deliver on such a robust career growth opportunity for team members who want to pursue their goals to further their education.”

Papa John’s noted that many of its leaders, including Ritchie and franchise owners like Nadeem Bajwa, began as hourly employees working as delivery drivers, shift managers, and customer service reps. This initiative will allow employees to build a better career for themselves without the financial burden. “Papa John’s prides itself on being a company people can come to for not only a job, but [also] a career. We believe in promoting from within and that ongoing education is imperative to career growth,” the company said in a statement.

The numbers support this assessment. According to the National Center of Educational Statistics (NCES), the median earnings of young adults with a bachelor’s degree were 57 percent higher than those with a high school diploma in 2016. NCES also found the median earnings of young adults with a master’s or higher degree were approximately 28 percent higher than those of young adults with a bachelor’s degree.

Corporate Papa John’s employees can receive 100 percent tuition coverage while franchise team members will be eligible for significant tuition reductions. In order to qualify for the program, employees only need to have worked 90 days and 20-plus hours a week. The program was created to improve the skill set of employees and prepare them to advance their careers whether they remain with Papa John’s or decide to pursue a different career path.

The online degree programs offered through this program are customizable for each employee allowing them to pursue coursework of their choice. Purdue Global currently offers 180 different degrees, including everything from finance and information technology to cybersecurity. And if employees want to stay in the restaurant industry, there are education options available for that as well.

“We’re delighted to partner with Papa John’s to bring an exceptional Purdue Global student experience to its corporate and franchise team members,” said Dr. Betty Vandenbosch, chancellor of Purdue University Global, in a statement. “Our new relationship with Papa John’s is an example of how we can help organizations meet the increasing demand for educated and trained workers, while creating a personalized, high-quality education for students that fits their busy schedules.”

Vandenbosch also noted that the customizable program can be integrated into the busy schedules of Papa John’s employees. Students progress at their own pace and often can earn college credits for previous work experience.

Papa John’s hopes this new initiative will help the company’s efforts to become an employer of choice within the fast-food industry.

“We want to be an employer of choice in the marketplace,” said Papa John’s chief people officer Marvin Boakye. “This new tuition benefit program not only provides our team members with a tremendous career growth opportunity, but it [also] gives us a competitive advantage in the marketplace that will make us better as an organization.”

With more than 20 years of human resources experience, Boakye was hired as the company’s first chief people officer in January.

“Boakye’s expertise will help us to continue to push Papa John’s forward in our transformation to become a better place to work for our corporate and franchise team members,” Ritchie said in a statement.

Since the outburst of negative media related to founder John Schnatter’s racial-slur incident and his subsequent departure from the company as chairman, Papa John’s has been working to stabilize its image. Its “Voices” campaign, which launched in September, put the spotlight on franchisees and employees. A stark departure from the founder-led marketing that dominated Papa John’s spend for so long.

Although sales continue to be rocky for the pizza chain, it is working on a turnaround. In January, Starboard Value LP made a $200 million strategic investment in Papa John’s with the option to add another $50 million through March 29. Starboard’s chief executive officer, Jeffrey Smith, is taking over as chairman of Papa John’s board.

This first-of-it’s-kind tuition initiative for Papa John’s is another step forward in the brand’s strategy to rebuild from within.

Employee Management, Fast Casual, Franchising, Pizza, Story, Papa Johns