Education made accessible for employees by Point University

Published 8:30 am Saturday, August 5, 2023

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Point University’s subscription program has made higher education more accessible during the pandemic, benefiting local Chick-fil-A operators and other businesses.

The subscription program allows local and countrywide businesses, like ITC Holding Company, to offer free continuing education to their employees through Point University.

The program began in February 2022 to make education accessible during the increasing college debt students are facing. Franchise owners, local businesses and church organizations have enrolled. 

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“We are educators,” said Point University Chief of Staff Dr. Stacy Bartlett. “We very much believe in helping our students get access to education. We’re a private institution so we know that is, in some cases, an affordability issue.”

Over 375 businesses and organizations are signed on for the program. Online students from 41 states are enrolled in the program. 

In Rockmart, Georgia, Director of Operations Hugo Paredes has worked for Chick-fil-A for 10 years. His operator, Zach Thomas, was one of 15 locations to join the program when it rolled out. 

Paredes, a first-generation student, has been working towards his Business Administrative degree since 2020. 

“Being out of school for 10 years, it was still scary to know that like ‘man, what if I am not good at school anymore?’” Paredes said. 

Paredes said Point’s faculty and staff were always supportive and helpful. He said he quickly “became a cheerleader for the program.” This semester, Paredes and his operator have helped 15 team members get enrolled at Point. 

“I wish I would have had this opportunity when I was way younger,” Paredes said. “I’m 32 years of age but I see a lot of my younger team members, and I encourage them to start, and even some of the older generation as well.”

The Chick-fil-A at 4th Street in Gadsden, Alabama, has been enrolled in the program since April 2022. Hiring Assistant Tammy Stephens, a first-generation college student, was one of six employees at the location to enroll in the first year. She joined the online program for her MBA. 

“I feel honored and privileged to have been selected to participate in a program like this because this is something that I never expected having done a career change as an adult,” Stephens said. “I never thought in a million years that I would have the opportunity to afford to go back to school and pursue an advanced degree.”

Crystal Foate, a Chick-fil-A team member in San Angelo, Texas, and program liaison, is a single mother taking advantage of Point’s program. Currently, eight of her team members are enrolled in the program. 

Through the program, she will be able to complete her degree in psychology in two years.

“This was kind of my opportunity that I saw that this is the best I’m going to get as far as price and saving myself money and still being able to work as many hours as I need to,” Foate said. 

Many local business groups in LaGrange and West Point have enrolled. The program benefits employers by helping them recruit and retain employees. 

“It quickly gained traction,” Bartlett said. “…  It’s really far-reaching.”

ITC Holding Company is a West Point-based telephone company operating seven companies with around 600 team members countrywide. Currently, 26 team members are enrolled in the program, with about 20% of them living locally in West Point and the Valley area.

“Being able to provide higher education for all of our full-time team members, it’s been a win-win-win,” said ITC Holding Co. Chaplain Mark Smith. “Not only does it strengthen Point University’s enrollment, but more importantly it strengthens the individual team member and the company as a whole.”

The program allows students to enroll in an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree program. Over 1000 students were enrolled last fall. By transferring credits from previous programs, three students have already graduated from the program. 

Stephens said the support services at Point take into account the work-life balance that students in the program — working adults — have to consider. For her program, she takes one course each eight-week term. 

“It gives you a little more flexibility because you can focus on one at a time,” Stephens said.

Stephens said the program also allows students to submit their on-the-job experience to be reviewed for college credit. 

“Time is money so that’s always helpful,” Stephens said.

According to Stephens, Gadsden, which is about two hours away from Point’s campus, has been a historically underserved area and the program helps “level the playing field” for students of her community who may not otherwise be able to afford higher education.

Other operators have made an effort to lessen the financial burden even further. Foate’s operator provided a $50 voucher for textbooks, which are not included in the tuition program. He also offered to sponsor a flight for team members to walk across the stage at graduation.

Smith said Point’s online MBA program has helped employees gain skills that they can “put immediately into practice in their daily work,” without having to relocate or disrupt their lives by coming on campus.

“On the company side, we’ve seen this increase our ability to recruit talent in an increasingly competitive talent market,” Smith said.

Parades said the program has given him a “life-changing” opportunity to pursue higher education and made him a better leader for his job and coworkers. 

“I feel like it’s impacted me in a way that I never expected it to and it’s been wonderful,” Paredes said. “… It’s allowed me to grow personally and at the same time both as a student, as a person and as a leader. Because as a leader, I have to push my team to continue to strive, just as much as I want to continue to set those expectations for myself.”

The program’s quick success has led Point to hire a billing administrator to handle the administrative duties. 

“This program is unique because students are not only getting an education but there’s community impact,” Bartlett said. “It helps businesses retain employees. It helps them to recruit employees. And so it’s just a unique way to go about not only educating but also supporting local communities.”