PhotoSome companies provide college tuition assistance for their employees, a nice perk when the cost of a college degree keeps rising.

But many employees – especially in the fast food industry – can't take advantage of that perk because they lack a high school diploma. Church's, the fried chicken franchise, is now addressing that.

The company has announced it is expanding its Stride for Success program to all company-owned restaurants. Employees can earn a high school diploma while working by participating in a company-funded partnership with Penn Foster, which operates an accredited online high school diploma program.

According to the ConsumerAffairs Research Team, Penn Foster has been accredited since 1972 and is licensed by the Pennsylvania State Board of Private Licensed Schools. The school has a focus on lifelong learning as well as traditional high school education.

Chance to advance

The company says its education program is designed to encourage Church's employees to reach educational milestones and advance within the company. For example, for someone to become a manager of a company-owned Church's store, he or she must be a high school graduate.

Under this program, Church's covers 100% of the cost associated with the program. Penn Foster designed a curriculum specifically for online study, allowing students to complete their diploma around their work schedules.

"Our people are and always have been our strongest assets," CEO Jim Hyatt said in a statement. "Laying the foundation for our employees to reach integral milestones and harness their potential will serve to both enrich their lives personally and strengthen our brand as a whole."

The program can not only help employees move up within the company, a diploma also clears the way for college work as well, perhaps moving on to a job in another industry.

For years, jobs in fast food were highly transitory, with people moving on after just a few months. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, many employees work at fast food restaurants for years because there are so few other jobs.

Franchise stores next

Church's said it hopes to expand the education benefit to franchisees in the future. Church's Chicken has more than 1,600 stores in 30 countries.

Companies that provide help with a high school diploma are more rare than those helping employees with college tuition. GED Easy reports several large, mostly minimum wage employers, such as KFC and Walmart, provide help to employees preparing to take a GED exam.

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