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Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park to pay full tuition for employees pursuing higher education

The company said it didn't want employees pursuing higher education to be burdened by student debt.

Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park to pay full tuition for employees pursuing higher education
Dolly Parton accepting at the Songwriters Hall of Fame 32nd Annual Awards at Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers in New York City. June 14, 2001. Photo: Scott Gries/ImageDirect/Getty Images

Dollywood Parks & Resorts has announced it will provide free tuition and cover the cost of books for its employees. The Tennessee-based theme park is jointly owned by country music icon Dolly Parton and will help its employees pursue higher education as part of the new program—GROW U program—that will be launched on February 24. The perk will be made available to all employees pursuing an education. "One of The Dollywood Foundation's key tenets is to 'learn more.' This program is created with that very tenet in mind. We want our hosts to develop themselves through advanced learning to fulfill the foundation's other tenets: care more, dream more, and be more," said the President of Dollywood Company, Eugene Naughton, reported WZTV.

NASHVILLE, TN - JULY 31: Dolly Parton: Pure & Simple 7th Annual Gift Of Music. Night one of two sold out shows at The Ryman Auditorium on July 31, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)



Student loans have proven to be a huge burden on those seeking higher education. Naughton is aware of that and hoping Dollywood's employees can dream of a future not burdened by loans. "When our hosts strive to grow themselves, it makes our business and our community a truly better place," said Naughton. "We care about our hosts' development and we want their future to grow because of love—not loans." 



Herschend Enterprises, Dollywood’s parent company, announced that the program can be accessed by 11,000 of its seasonal, part-time and full-time employees at Herschend’s 25 U.S. attractions, including Dollywood. "The significant investment in employee education will be made through Herschend's GROW U. The program aims to make it exponentially easier for employees at all levels to pursue their personal and professional dreams through education," read a statement by the company. 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 10: Dolly Parton talks to the media at a press conference at the InterContinental Sydney on November 10, 2011 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)



The company said employees can enroll as early as the first day of employment in diploma, degree and certificate programs offered by 30 learning partners. Some of the subjects offered as part of the higher education program include business administration and leadership, finance, marketing, technology, and culinary studies. In other 150 additional fields, including engineering, human resources, hospitality and art design, the company will partially fund the courses or give up to $5,250 a year.



“When our hosts feel appreciated and are given opportunities like this, they feel cared for and they can pass that feeling on to their guests,” said Wes Ramey, a spokesman for Dollywood Co., reported The Washington Post. Ramey also said that Dolly Parton is completely backing the program. “She’s very supportive of the employees learning and continuing to grow themselves,” said Naughton. The Tennessee amusement park was renamed Dollywood after Dolly Parton took over the park in 1986.



The program will be applicable to the Dollywood park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and also to other attractions such as Pink Adventure Tours in Tennessee, Arizona, and Nevada and Silver Dollar City in Missouri; and Adventure Aquarium in New Jersey. Dollywood and its parent company Herschend Enterprises are following in the footsteps of many other companies that are providing higher education to their employees. Companies such as Best Buy, Chipotle and Home Depot provide up to $5,000 a year in tuition costs to their employees while Starbucks offers to pay for its workers’ online college degrees through Arizona State University. Last year, Walmart announced that it would pay for college tuition and books for its 1.5 million U.S. employees and added that it would invest close to $1 billion over the next five years in career training and development programs for workers who want to pursue work in related fields.

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