In a move that really should have been titled ‘Burritos for Business People,’ Chipotle has announced that it will be covering full tuition for employees earning “degrees in business and technology.” As I type this, I’m staring at my liberal arts degree that I haven’t paid off and wondering where I went wrong in life.
The new initiative is a part of Chipotle’s Cultivate Education program, which will allow employees who have been working at the company for more than 120 days to pursue one of 75 different degrees, all in the business or tech fields. This is on top of an existing policy that reimburses Chipotle employees for school fees up to $5250 a year. So while the philosophy major prepping your burrito will incur some debt, the line cook studying information technology will graduate debt-free. The guacamole will still be extra.
While this move is an incredible stroke of generosity from a company that made $4.9 billion (with a B!) last year, it’s also a reminder of the bleak reality of the American education system. Chipotle’s plan exists because college is not affordable without outside wealth or other reinforcements. It
devalues the choices of people who aim for less practical degrees—like, oh, I don’t know a degree in journalism. Even as it alleviates some of the burdens of paying for school, Chipotle forces people to choose between pursuing their passions or assured financial stability.
It’s also a program designed to reward men. While women attend college at higher rates than men (and make up 72% of graduates), they are underrepresented in those fields. While women are the principal users for most technology, they earn computer science degrees less frequently than their male colleagues. Women make up fewer than 20% of those studying for bachelor’s degrees in computer science; only 35% of STEM degrees are awarded to women.
These educational barriers happen long before women enter these fields, where they face pay disparity—a gap that’s even more severe for women of color and trans women and non-binary people.
So sure, folding that oversized burrito to the perfect shape can pay for college and even provide health insurance. But we can’t all get jobs at Chipotle. (I know, I’ve tried already.) And while the example that Chipotle sets forth is astonishing for a fast-food company, it’s unfathomable that for some, the only path to a college education has to be through the bank account of a billion-dollar business.