Employee retention is a problem plaguing restaurant chains in every corner of the industry. With the U.S. employment rate a touch over 4 percent, minimum wage hikes, and the accelerating turnover rates for hourly employees (TDn2K’s People Report recorded another increase in the 12-month rolling turnover rate in January) it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find quality help, let alone retain those high performers. But as TDn2K pointed out, “As restaurants compete for kitchen talent they will have to look to their compensation plans as part of the strategy.”

This has been evident, especially in recent months as companies report savings from recent tax reform. Starbucks, for example, said it would pour more than $250 million into a benefits package for employees that would include everything from paid sick time to stock and wage improvements.

READ MORE: Taco Bell to bring delivery to thousands of restaurants.

With that in mind, it’s hardly surprising to see Taco Bell’s response to its Guild Education pilot from 2017. The YUM! Brands chain saw a 30 percent increase in employee retention for those enrolled over the first six months. This test was in about 700 corporate-owned restaurants and included more than 2,000 employees, who have since worked with a Guild Coach to go back to school. Employees enrolled in a course, program or degree through Guild had a 98 percent retention rate in that six-month space, a 34 percent increase over those employees who were not enrolled.

The response from Taco Bell: Take the program national.

Taco Bell announced Thursday morning that it is partnering with Guild Education to provide education support for all 210,000 team members in its system of 7,000 U.S. restaurants.

These employees will have access to personalized college advisors and tuition discounts for thousands of classes, certificates, and degrees the moment they start working with Taco Bell.

“When we surveyed our employees, education support was one of the top three things they asked for,” said Frank Tucker, global chief people officer at Taco Bell, in a statement. “The barriers to achieving their education goals were time, money, and support. Our partnership with Guild delivers on all of these needs for our employees through access to online classes, financial aid guidance, tuition assistance, and a personal counselor to support each student in real time.”

A Taco Bell Employee StudiesA Taco Bell Employee Works In The Drive Thru

This is part of Taco Bell’s “Start With Us, Stay With Us,” approach.

Back in the fall of 2016, the chain unveiled a growth plan that called for the addition of 100,000 new jobs by 2022. Included: roughly 200 store openings annually, and 8,000 stateside, 9,000 globally, by that date. Taco Bell plans to open more than 250 U.S. restaurants in 2018 alone.

Taco Bell said the Guild Education program is “critical” to its efforts to further this positioning as a quick-service leader in the labor field.

All Taco Bell corporate and franchise employees will have access to Guild’s academic and financial aid coaches and discounts to Guild’s education partners—a network of 80 online non-profit universities and learning providers, offering Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. These programs include high school completion and English-as-a-second language, and there is also a wide selection of certificates available.

Taco Bell corporate employees, along with those at participating franchises, will have access to up to $5,250 per calendar year in tuition assistance, including books and supplies, paid up front to avoid out-of-pocket costs. All employees can also get college credit for on-the-job restaurant training, which could save an employee an additional $5,000, Taco Bell said, bringing their potential total savings to more than $10,000.

“Taco Bell’s emphasis on employee development made them an ideal partner for us,” said Guild Education CEO Rachel Carlson, in a statement. “Taco Bell’s ‘Start With Us, Stay With Us’ philosophy aligns perfectly with Guild’s value of giving employees education pathways to advance their careers—both at Taco Bell and beyond in future roles. We’re delighted to help each Taco Bell employee find the right university or program to pursue their education, and our team at Guild will be with them every step of the way as they pursue their academic and career goals.”

The “Start With US, Stay With Us,” platform arrived in November. Education was center to this strategy. The Graduate for Mas Program, which to that point had enrolled nearly 600,000 people, helped participants who promised to graduate gain access to resources, mentorship support, prizes, and rewards, such as scholarship.

Then there was also the GED Certification Program in tandem with GED Testing Services; an Excelsior Program through Excelsior College, an accredited non-profit institution that offers Taco Bell staff the chance to earn a flexible online degree at discount prices; and the Live Mas Scholarship aimed at students who don’t fit into the typical athletic or academic mold.

Taco Bell’s same-store sales were up 4 percent for fiscal 2017, year-over-year. Taco Bell opened 134 restaurants in the fourth quarter, 314 for the fiscal year, including 77 international units, to bring its total to 6,849.

Employee Management, Story, Taco Bell