Arizona State University (ASU) recently announced exciting plans to partner with Uber to offer free online degrees to Uber drivers that meet certain longevity requirements. The program is an expansion of ASU’s 2014 partnership with Starbucks, but with one significant change: The scholarship can be transferred to a loved one. This will give Uber drivers the opportunity to either pursue a degree themselves while working, or give the scholarship to a spouse, child, or other family members. The hope is that this program will offer flexibility and make a college education more accessible to low- and middle-income households.
ASU is joining a growing trend of collegiate-corporate collaborations. Google, for example, partners with 25 community colleges to offer an IT-support professional certificate, while FedEx offers free tuition at the University of Memphis for its local employees. These partnerships appear to be mutually beneficial for corporations and institutions of higher education. Companies benefit from good PR and are able to both invest in and retain their employees. The Uber-ASU partnership is particularly aimed at employee retention, as drivers have to work a certain number of hours to qualify for the scholarship. Colleges and universities, on the other hand, are able to fulfill their mission of providing affordable education to working class families and can do so without spending money as corporations foot the bill.
More colleges and universities should follow the general model of corporate partnerships and model these successful initiatives. ASU’s recent deal is especially significant because of the flexibility that it offers. Providing students with the opportunity to pursue a degree remotely while working full time will greatly reduce the strain of pursuing higher education. It can be difficult for low-income households to take time off from work in order to get educated, as they likely don’t have large savings to draw from. As leaders in education, we need to consider some of the practical barriers that keep people from pursuing degrees and find ways to work together, even with unlikely partners, to help make education attainable for all.