Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Theme Park Offers Free College to Employees

The Tennessee theme park Dollywood is participating in a free college for employees program that pays 100% of tuition at partner colleges.

Published February 11, 2022

Edited by Reece Johnson
Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Theme Park Offers Free College to Employees
Photo by George Rose / Contributor / Getty Images News / Getty Images

  • The Tennessee theme park will cover 100% of employees' tuition, fees, and books.
  • The program will launch late February.
  • Workers may enroll with one of 30 partner colleges starting from their first day.

Dolly Parton, the rhinestone-covered songbird recently nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, adds to her philanthropic track record with a new free college program for employees of her Tennessee amusement park, Dollywood. Starting Feb. 24, seasonal, part-, and full-time employees at Dollywood are eligible for free college from their first day of work.

Parton acquired the park in 1986 and today partly owns Dollywood along with Herschend Enterprises, a private themed attractions corporation. The new free college perk is offered through Herschend's GROW U program.

Herschend Enterprises Connects Employees with 30 Colleges

The nascent GROW U program will provide the 11,000 employees of the corporation's 25 U.S. attractions access to diploma, degree, and certificate programs in business administration and leadership, culinary, finance, technology, and marketing.

Partial funding of up to $5,250 per year will be available in 150 other programs like hospitality, engineering, human resources, and art design. The program affects some 3,000 Dollywood employees.

GROW U is powered by Guild Education, a workforce education platform that provides similar programs to employees of major companies like Disney, Target, and Walmart. Guild's 30 learning partners include eCornell, University of Massachusetts Global, Southern New Hampshire University, and Oregon State University.

Work at Dollywood, Get a Free College Education

Located in the Great Smoky Mountains, Dollywood advertises itself as "the friendliest theme park in the world." The theme park boasts rollercoasters, water attractions, an eagle sanctuary, a classic Southern-styled resort, cabins, and an extravagant dinner show, "Stampede," which pairs a four-course meal with horse-riding stunts and musical entertainment.

For the 2022 operating season, which runs March through December, Dollywood is hiring part- and full-time employees as well as peak-season workers. There are job openings on culinary, retail, and park operations teams. The park also employs entertainers — urging "talented singers and expressive actors" to apply.

Hiring events for the upcoming season are taking place at high schools and churches in the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee area. Applicants must be 14 years of age or older.

Dollywood Wants Employees to "Learn More"

Parton, born in rural Appalachia, didn't grow up in an environment that centered formal education. Her father couldn't read or write. Eager to get through school and start her music career, Parton moved to Nashville immediately after graduating from high school.

While Dolly never pursued higher education, she delivered the 2009 commencement speech at the University of Tennessee in which she said the Dollywood Foundation's mission is to encourage kids to "dream more, learn more, care more, and be more."

In announcing the new college tuition initiative, the president of The Dollywood Company, Eugene Naughton, told the local Knoxville ABC station that one of the key tenets of the Dollywood Foundation is to "learn more."