Education Policy and Advocacy
Source: The Imagination Library Brand Guide

Dollywood & Dolly Parton Make Education Free for 9 to 5 Workers

This #WomensHistoryMonth, we were eager to speak about two of our absolute favorite topics – education reform and music – and one of the most inspirational women of our time who has made an impact in both.

News of Dolly Parton’s good deeds is not new to the education community. But now hearing how she’s helping to enhance our current workforce and support the attainment of Durable Skills… needless to say, we are all ears.

Beginning last month, Dollywood Parks and Resorts covers 100 percent of the tuition costs, fees, and books for employees who pursue higher education. Starting on their first day of employment, all part-time and full-time employees at Dollywood’s parent company, Herschend Enterprises, can register for the GROW U pilot program with Guild Education.

As previously mentioned, this is certainly not Dolly’s first time supporting education. Some of our favorites include:

  • 1988: The Dollywood Foundation launched with the goal of decreasing high school dropout rates. She then started the Buddy Program, in which Parton gave $500 to every seventh and eighth grader who finished high school. According to the organization, the initiative was successful and the dropout rate declined from 35 percent to just 6 percent.
  • 1995: The Foundation evolved into The Imagination Library, a book-gifting program that mails free, high-quality books to children from birth to age five, no matter their family’s income.
  • 2000: The Dolly Parton Scholarship began by offering a $15,000 college scholarship to five high school seniors in Sevier County, Tennessee. According to the Dollywood Foundation, the scholarship is awarded to those who “have a dream they wish to pursue and who can successfully communicate their plan and commitment to realize their dreams.”

For her most recent philanthropic endeavors, we can’t help but notice how Durable Skills seem embedded in these employees’ working options.

“One of The Dollywood Foundation’s key tenets is to ‘learn more,’” Dollywood Company President Eugene Naughton said. “This program is created with that very tenet in mind. We want our [employees] to develop themselves through advanced learning to fulfill the foundation’s other tenets: care more, dream more, and be more.”

To practice learning, to juggle school and work simultaneously, to organize time and prioritize tasks – all are opportunities for these employees to hone integrity, teamwork, planning, and organization, to name only a few. Learning these Durable Skills without the added financial burden that many secondary school options bring is an incredible gift not only to these individuals, but to our workforce and community.

At America Succeeds, we will continue working to get these Durable Skills into K-12 classrooms as soon as possible (stay tuned in April for a very important step in this process). In the meantime…

To be alive in a time when one woman is helping to change the education system and the workforce simultaneously, all while giving us unforgettable music along the way? Lucky, indeed. (If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll see she is a fan of humor, too.)


Happy #WomensHistoryMonth to all of the women making big changes in education reform, and especially to Dolly Parton, helping us make thoughtful, equitable changes to those 9 to 5 jobs since 1967.

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