May 22, 2022

Pacific Dental Services offers free college tuition to thousands of its staff

View Original Notice ? Pacific Dental Services offers free college tuition to thousands of its staff

Pacific Dental Services is offering its employees a bridge to higher education.

The Irvine-based company has launched an online College Advancement Program that provides eligible employees with 100% paid college tuition toward an undergraduate degree of their choice.

The company, which provides hundreds of dentists nationwide with office support, contracted with workforce education provider InStride to create the program. The curriculum created through InStride’s partnership with Arizona State University.

Bachelor’s degree programs are available in more than 130 areas, including data science, biochemistry, electrical engineering, political science, psychology and urban planning, among others.

The tuition money is paid up-front and available to Pacific Dental operations managers, benefits coordinators and dental assistants who work full time and have been with the company for at least 30 days. It allows them to earn their education debt-free while remaining employed.

The company will also cover book expenses and any other mandatory fees that crop up for the duration of the degree program. Classes for the first semester begin Jan. 10.

A recruiting tool

The program is an obvious boon for employees looking to advance their careers, but it also benefits Pacific Dental, according to company founder and CEO Stephen E. Thorne IV.

“It’s a great attraction as a recruiting tool for future employees,” Thorne said. “There are many high school graduates who either didn’t go to college or maybe didn’t finish college. This gives them a chance to get that degree.”

More than 3,000 employees have inquired about the tuition program and 17 have started the application process. (Photo courtesy of Pacific Dental Services)

Trish Elliott, vice president of the company’s human resources department, said the program will cost Pacific Dental $5,000 to $10,000 per employee tuition, depending on which degree program they choose.

“We’ve had 3,300 employees inquire about the program on the website, and 17 have started the application process,” she said. “It’s a pretty big life-changing decision, so we expect it will take people some time to think about it.”

Pacific Dental employs around 14,000 people who provide support services to 850 dental practices throughout the U.S., including 245 in Southern California. The services include IT support, as well as real estate, accounting, legal, marketing and recruiting services, among others.

Some employees work on-site at the various dental offices, while others provide online help through support centers based in Irvine, Henderson, Nevada, and Irving, Texas.

‘They’re stoked’

Kyle Poulsen, owner of Menifee Lakes Dental Group in Menifee, said his Pacific Dental-contracted workers are excited about the tuition opportunity.

“They’re stoked,” he said. “This is something a private dental office could never afford to do. This will motivate employees to move on with their education. I care about my people advancing in life, even if they just work for us a few years and move on.”

Vivek Sharma, InStride’s founder and CEO, said he’s excited to be involved.

“Stephen Thorne and his leadership team have recognized that providing fully-funded strategic education opportunities results in both business and social impacts for their company and the communities they serve,” Sharma said in a statement.

Pacific Dental also helps employees advance their education through a traditional tuition reimbursement program that provides up to $5,250 a year. More than 1,000 free continuing education courses are additionally offered through PDS University, as well as a professional development program focused on specialized training and certificates.

Poulsen said Pacific Dental’s services have streamlined his practice.

“I have 18 employees and it’s nice not having to worry about all of the other stuff like labor laws, code compliance, accounting and HR,” he said. “I’m a bit of a procrastinator and dealing with the business side of things can be the most stressful part.”

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