By Jennifer Conrad

In university towns across the country, from Berkeley, California, to Bloomington, Indiana, Graduate Hotels celebrates local collegiate culture through the design of its lobbies and guest rooms. Now, the Nashville-based boutique hotel chain is making a big commitment to the education of its own workers.

In November 2022, Graduate Hotels launched its Graduate Academy program, which pays for up to $5,250 a year in tuition for employees to take courses at 18 different universities, enroll in English classes, or complete specialized certifications -- including programs not related to the person's position at Graduate Hotels.

The program is administered through workforce education company InStride, a 2020 Best in Business honoree, and designed to be open to everyone. All full- and part-time employees who've been employed by Graduate Hotels for more than 90 days can take part in the program, and the company pays up front, rather than reimbursing employees after they've completed their coursework.

For Graduate Hotels founder and CEO Ben Weprin, it's an extension of the brand's "We Are All Students" motto. "Learning and curiosity doesn't just stop when you graduate; it's a lifelong journey," says Weprin, who launched Graduate Hotels in 2014 after realizing that the parents, alumni, and prospective students who flock to college towns might want a place to stay with more character than the generic chains generally found near campuses.

With many hospitality brands struggling to hire and retain workers post-pandemic, Kevin Osterhaus (Graduate Hotels president) sees this program as a way to attract and retain the best workers. Graduate has already seen a 20 percent increase in employee retention among program participants, he says. "This is a key part of what we hope to accomplish here," says Osterhaus. "It's an attractive benefit to be able to pursue if you join the company, and it certainly allows us to develop and take advantage of more skilled labor internally."

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