Students taking advantage of the partnership between McGuire Restaurant Group and Middle Tennessee State University are thriving: one student employee’s already graduated, and several more preparing to walk across the stage inside Murphy Center very soon.
Two of those students, Michael Johnson and Ariane Raines, say they are reaching goals faster than they had ever imagined because of this unique partnership, forged in fall 2021, in which McGuire Restaurant Group pays 100% of a qualifying employee’s tuition at MTSU.
“I think I would have gotten a degree eventually, but without this deal, I don’t think I would have been able to be as aggressive,” says Johnson, who is an area supervisor for a group of six McDonald’s restaurants McGuire operates in Murfreesboro. “Maybe I would have stopped when I earned my associate degree, but even if I didn’t, I would have only been able to take a class at a time.”
Raines, now 44, started with McDonald’s originally because the company was offering tuition assistance. Then, she says, “life happened.”
“My education was put on the back burner, but it was always something I wanted for myself and my family,” she says.
“I was ecstatic when I learned about this partnership and that it allowed me the flexibility of continuing to work and get my degree.”
Because of the financial boost, both Johnson and Raines have progressed quickly through MTSU’s Applied Leadership Program in the University College with the help of their employer and the university’s Prior Learning Assessment course.
‘Aren’t just flipping burgers’
Using PLA, students leverage one of the biggest advantages MTSU can give to its adult students who are finishing their degrees.
With it, students convert their eligible prior work, training and certifications into college credit and use up to 60 credits toward electives — all for the cost and time of a three-credit-hour course.
Johnson earned 47 hours, the equivalent of more than 14 classes — and far more than he expected when he signed up for the course. He’s on schedule to graduate in May.
“The class was actually eye-opening because I realized how much work I’d done at McDonald’s over the last 10 years,” says Johnson, who started with McDonald’s in 2011 and became a general manager with McGuire Restaurant Group four years later, quickly being promoted to director of training and development.
“People who haven’t worked in fast food don’t understand what all goes into it. We aren’t just flipping burgers. We go through a lot of leadership training, and it was interesting to have that experience,” he adds.
Becoming a better manager
Raines says she found the PLA course gratifying because she had felt stagnant academically, even though she had risen to a general manager position at McGuire Restaurant Group. She’s on track to graduate in 2023.
“I think when you are in a place where you have felt that way, it helps you see the value of what you have done with the time you have been out of school,” she says.
The Applied Leadership Program puts adult students together to teach them valuable skills they can immediately take back to the workplace. Raines said those courses not only made her a better leader but have also helped her make long-lasting connections with her classmates.
“I have been doing this for a long time, and these courses have helped me develop the skill set to see what needs to happen to facilitate growth among my team members,” she says. “We are managing 75 to 100 people at the restaurant, and their needs and goals are all different.”
Jonathan McGuire, the man behind the partnership and the owner/operator of McGuire Management Group, says the pact is already paying dividends with longtime employees and new members of their “McFamily.”
McGuire Management operates 20 McDonald’s restaurants in Tennessee: 10 in Murfreesboro, seven in Nashville/Antioch and others in Columbia, Centerville and White Bluff.
“At McGuire Management Group, we are committed to investing in our people,” McGuire says. “By providing our team the opportunity to complete their education, we are investing in their future and in our community’s future. It is our belief that this investment will pay dividends for generations to come, and we are proud to be able to provide this amazing benefit.”
Johnson said that McGuire has always been supportive, and this partnership is only the latest way he has shown he is committed to helping his employees grow and advance their careers.
“(Jonathon) has always said that this partnership is an investment for him because it’s an investment in (his employees),” Johnson said.
Strong university support
Nearly 40 McGuire employees are currently enrolled and taking classes at MTSU. Johnson says that he thinks his coworkers, especially the older adults, see how successful those in the program have been, and it’s influencing them to follow a similar path.
He adds that the partnership wouldn’t be as successful without help from Dr. Peggy Carpenter, assistant dean of the University College.
“She is just the best,” Johnson says. “She helps our people out so much and had, several times, to drop whatever she is doing and come answer questions for any of us.”
Carpenter, who oversees the partnership for MTSU, says “it has been an honor to work with the McGuire Restaurant Group and their employees on this educational partnership.”
“Jonathan McGuire has a passion for helping his employees grow, which shows in his commitment to the partnership. There will be more and more success stories from people who may have never thought a college degree was possible for them.”
Johnson has big plans after he graduates in the spring. His next goal is to become director of operations for McGuire when that position opens up. He’s also considering pursuing his master’s degree, something he would have never imagined doing before last year.
“I’ve found that as I’ve gotten a little bit older, I value education more and take it much more seriously,” he says. “It’s helped me grow into a better manager and employee.”
To learn more about the partnership, visit MTSU.edu/McDonalds.
— Hunter Patterson (Hunter.Patterson@mtsu.edu)