ATLANTA — National childcare company Bright Horizons has offered to cover tuition for people who want to earn a degree in early childhood education.
Chief Inclusion Officer Felicia Robinson said it's all to recruit and retain teachers and childcare providers.
"Teaching is a noble career, and we want people who feel like they are called to be in that career," she said. "So we're paying for folks to get there early childhood education degree."
The company, which has more than 1,000 locations worldwide, including eight in metro Atlanta, asks that graduates of their Teacher Degree Program work for them for at least two years.
Haneefa Bennett, who graduated from the program last year, said that stipulation made the decision a no-brainer.
"In my eyes it’s job security," she said. “Being able to actually attain my degree and not being in debt that felt really good, really, really good.”
With so many people rightfully worried about taking on student loan debt, Robinson said they figured it’d be a win-win.
"The average student who attends a public university will actually end up with around $30,000 in student loan debt," she said. "And what we're saying is none of that has to be your story."
Between burnout and low pay, educators are harder than ever to find. A 2021 survey of 1,200 school districts across the US found that 75% reported having a teacher shortage.
Local districts like Clayton, Fulton and Atlanta Public Schools have been rolling out recruitment strategies like signing bonuses and salary increases.
The Teacher Degree Program is Bright Horizons' solution.
"I absolutely think it's a differentiator when it comes to other companies being able to say to their employees, this is how we support you," Robinson said. "We talk a lot about work life balance; I think it's more work life integration."
Graduating without a penny of student debt was a huge relief for Bennett.
"I saw my mother struggle paying off her student loan, she took a loan out in the 1960s and just paid it off a couple of years ago," she said. “I always told myself I would never take out a student loan if I didn't have to."
Bennet said she plans to stay with Bright Horizons' Alpharetta center for the foreseeable future.
“It’s really fulfilling," she said. "You get to be a part of the children's lives and you get to affect them in such a positive way.”
Bright Horizons said 494 people have graduated debt-free through the program and that they are accepting applications all the time.
To learn more about the teaching degree program and how to apply, click here.