Due to the hotel industry’s fast pace and its opportunities for rapid career advancement, many hospitality professionals find themselves without a formal education beyond high school or a little bit of college. While these employees are able to grow in their careers, there are still opportunities that would be more easily attained with the expertise that comes from formal coursework. This was the thinking behind Pearson’s AcceleratED Pathways program, which gives hospitality employees the ability to receive an Associate’s degree for little to no cost. The program was launched in March in partnership with the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and its foundational group, the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation (AHLEF). In just six months, AcceleratED Pathways has already seen exciting growth.
Harrisburg, Pa.-based hotel developer and manager HHM is actively enrolling associates into the program, with 18 employees enrolled and one already taking classes out of a pool of 40 applicants. Joann Weber, VP of people services for HHM, says, “The program affords our associates the opportunity to obtain an Associate’s degree. It’s built specifically for people who have started their education and—for economic or other reasons—have discontinued their coursework. We have the opportunity to further all their prior credits, assist them with obtaining financial assistance, and encourage them to complete a hospitality degree.”
Employees take online classes that work around their existing work schedules, with semesters starting as often as three or four times per year. Weber believes this scheduling system is key to ensuring employees are able to earn their degrees and learn information and strategies that they would not necessarily encounter on the job. “We thought it would be a great opportunity for associates because it’s all online work that they can do at their own pace,” Weber says. “And while there are semesters, they can participate in classes according to their schedules. We believe there isn’t any downside to participating.”
HHM payroll manager Lauren Cheese was the first HHM employee to start AcceleratED Pathways classes; she is working toward a hospitality degree. Cheese says that both the program and her coordinating teachers are very supportive and helpful. Cheese adds, “It touches employees personally when companies are saying, ‘I’m going to take care of that for you.’ This is a big deal and solidifies an employee’s loyalty.”
Acceptance into the program varies per organization. In HHM’s case, past school performance doesn’t impact an employee’s eligibility, but an employee must be with the company for a certain amount of time before he or she can participate. Weber adds that the program gives employees the confidence that comes with a degree, and that classes increase productivity and further careers. “Our industry is famous for promoting from within. Oftentimes, it’s not necessarily the degree that gets people to the top. There are many smart people in our business that didn’t have the opportunity to go to college right out of high school, but have been very successful running a business. Getting the Associate’s degree might help them with financing and budgeting, and it might move them forward in their careers a little faster,” she explains.
Weber hopes that more employees like Cheese are encouraged to apply for classes through the AcceleratED Pathways program to further build their careers. Weber adds, “I would love to see this program encourage participants to continue to further their educations and eventually go on to earn their Bachelor’s degree.”