This fall will see the beginning of a collaboration between Hormel Foods and Tidewater Community College on the southern coast of Virginia. Aiden Estrada is the first child of a Hormel Foods employee to attend Tidewater with tuition fully paid by the Hormel Inspired Pathways program. Given the enthusiasm from the college’s staff and administrators, he will be the first of many.
I personally haven’t worked with other companies that have put this much support behind education. Extending these opportunities to the children of employees is unique in my experience.Misty Lyon, dean of enrollment management at Tidewater
Naima G. Ford, who is the public relations and marketing director for the college, also sees the program as unique. “There are companies that will give matching financial support to employees for continuing education,” she says, “but the way Hormel is looking ahead to the next generation shows that you are really investing in the community for the long term.”
That long-term perspective comes naturally to the staff of the Planters Suffolk, Va., plant (Planters is a Hormel Foods subsidiary). The company has employed tens of thousands of local residents since its founding in 1906. Those families live in the greater Norfolk, Va. area where Tidewater has its four campuses.
“This is an exciting partnership,” says Naima. “This shows that Hormel and its Planters brand are investing in the local community and in the future. It shows that they believe in making positive changes in the places where their employees live and work. That’s a huge deal.”
According to Naima, over 60% of Tidewater’s graduates who finish community college stay within the area. The investment goes beyond covering the tuition for one student; it’s a deeper investment into the future prosperity of the community and its future workforce.
The barriers to getting an advanced certificate or a college degree can go beyond financial. Sometimes the opportunity just doesn’t get communicated to the parents or they have difficulty filling out the forms and wading through other bureaucratic requirements. Many Planters team members are first- or second-generation immigrants to America. Some of their children arrived in the U.S. not speaking English as a first language. Hormel Foods founded the Inspired Pathways program to be the one-stop-shop for all their college advising needs and questions.
“Families may be supportive but they just don’t know how to work through the system,” says Lyon. “What makes Inspired Pathways special is their willingness to help families through the process and to provide answers when they have questions.”
The mission of community colleges is more important than ever. Covid set back the education of many young people. Both reading and math scores have dropped for a whole generation.
The cost of four-year college degrees doubled in a single generation. There are currently 150 private colleges that charge $50,000 per year in tuition and that is before living expenses are added in. Inflation is only likely to put the cost further out of reach for many families. In contrast, a year’s classes at Tidewater currently cost a little over $5,000. But even that price keeps higher education out of reach for many students.
According to Lyon and Ford, grants like Inspired Pathways have an impact that goes beyond simply removing some financial burdens on students and their families. Knowing that your parents’ employer is funding your education gives students that sense of belonging, that they have a whole community of people rooting for them and expecting good results.
“A grant from Inspired Pathways brings with it a sense of pride and connection to your parents and the people they work with, which is going to be motivating,” says Ford. “I think we will see that those with this sort of support will be more likely to complete a certificate or a degree program.”
Lyon agrees. “Family support is often critical for people to complete their education. This program adds to that support. It removes a financial burden but it also increases the sense of pride that their parents worked for a company that provided this type of benefit.”