Middle Tennessee State University students are getting a financial boost thanks to a thriving partnership between the university and Chick-fil-A restaurants in Murfreesboro owned by the Noblitt family.
Kaylin Garton started working at the Old Fort Parkway Chick-fil-A four years ago when she was attending Siegel High School in Murfreesboro. She says the job has lifted the financial burden on not just her, but her whole family.
“My mom is a nurse and works in Hermitage,” Garton said. “I like to think me having a good job helps her know that she doesn’t always have to pick up extra shifts just so I can afford to go to school.”
Launched just over a year ago, Chick-fil-A’s partnership with MTSU has taken that to a new level. With the partnership, students can position themselves to save a lot of money while earning the same paycheck. Chick-fil-A pays for one full three-hour class each semester. Additionally, students who wish to pay out-of-pocket for additional hours or semesters will have the opportunity to do so at the Chick-fil-A corporate tuition rate.
MTSU students who work for one of the two Murfreesboro locations must work 20 hours or four days a week to be eligible for the program.
In addition to the partnership, the two restaurants owned and operated by the Noblitt family offer student loan repayment and tuition reimbursement. Qualified workers receive up to $2,000 a year in loan repayments and $1,000 in tuition reimbursement twice a year.
“The first reaction when we tell current employees or candidates about these benefits is usually, ‘Wow, really?’” said Alyssa Smart, the franchise’s human resources director. “When students realize they have a pathway to reduce their student debt, they’re usually really inspired and surprised.”
With a full class schedule of 17 hours, Garton is certainly taking advantage of the opportunity.
“I wake up every day before 7 a.m. and if I work, I usually don’t get in bed until around midnight,” Garton said. “Calculus II is taking up a lot of my time.”
Now a junior mechanical engineering technology major, Garton said the partnership came at the perfect time for her.
“My first year was hard,” the Rutherford County native said. “I lost my HOPE scholarship and undeclared from my major and became an undecided student.”
She said she was trying to get her grades back up by taking her general education courses when she got an email about the new partnership between Chick-fil-A and MTSU.
“I said to myself, ‘Oh my goodness, if I can get my scholarship back and have both of these options through Chick-fil-A — the partnership and the loan repayment — I can make up for the money I lost.’”
‘We’re starting to build traction’
Smart says she hopes more students and employees can see that there is a path to getting a degree and leaving college with as little debt as possible.
“We’re starting to build traction, and we have more employees who are MTSU students than ever before,” she said. “We’re excited to continue growing this partnership and being on campus even more showcasing how we can help students.”
As for Garton, she was able to earn her scholarship back and found the right major for her in a short time.
“Once things started to fall into place with my finances, I started focusing on getting back into doing what I actually enjoyed doing,” she said. “It reminded me that I love being hands-on and designing things.”
She said she considered a major dealing with architecture or construction management but finally landed on engineering technology. Today, she is even using what she is learning in the classroom at Chick-fil-A.
Garton thought she could manufacture an easier, more efficient way she and her coworkers could put stickers on their cookie packages. Before, the stickers were on a roll sitting on a table. Now, thanks to some fine engineering work, the staff uses a fully customized holder that allows them to pull the roll through and replace it easily when they run out.
Garton said she “just used spare parts” to put the sticker holder together, but her manager was very impressed with the functionality and design. She even put the company’s logo and ‘M’BORO’ on the dispenser.
She said she likes to think of herself as a big sister to a lot of her coworkers.
“I’m only 21, but I feel so much older than a lot of the people I work with,” she said while laughing. “When I work at night, I am able to talk to them about what their plans are for the future, and I tell them how beneficial this partnership has been for me.
“They may be already considering going to MTSU, but I think this partnership will help them make the decision,” she added.
For more information on the partnership, visit mtsu.edu/chickfila or call University College at 615-494-7714.
— Hunter Patterson (Hunter.Patterson@mtsu.edu)
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