WWD EXCLUSIVE: American Eagle Outfitters to Spend $5 Million on Retail Associates’ Education

Employees who have a proven track record of fighting for social justice issues are eligible to receive up to $40,000 for college expenses.

By Kellie Ell | Link to article

American Eagle Outfitters is making some new investments. 

This time, the retailer is helping finance the education of its associates with the AEO Real Change Scholarship for Social Justice. The $5 million endowment will fund college expenses for employees who have a track record of promoting social justice issues within their communities.

“Our associates have always been the heartbeat of AEO Inc. and real change comes from investing in our people,” Jay Schottenstein, executive chairman and chief executive officer of American Eagle Outfitters, told WWD. “The scholarship was created to help dismantle systematic racism by providing equitable education opportunities and encouraging our AEO family to make a positive impact in the world —  and within our company — through work that promotes social justice.”

American Eagle Outfitters, which includes the American Eagle, Aerie, Todd Snyder and Unsubscribed brands, employs nearly 40,000 associates globally. About 70 percent of those employees are in Generation Z, or under the age of 25. But the scholarship is open to all full- and part-time associates, including in-store, corporate and distribution center employees, who are pursuing an undergraduate degree. Applicants must submit a personal statement outlining how they’re taking a stand against social justice issues — such as racism, hatred, bigotry, discrimination or inequality — demonstrate financial need and maintain a 3.0 grade point average, among other criteria.

The scholarship is meant to support underrepresented communities, such as Black, Indigenous and people of color, as well as low-income families, Schottenstein said, “So they can pursue the education they deserve and achieve their goals.”

“Our people are young and passionate and they want to make the world a better place,” Schottenstein said. “This scholarship helps them do just that, while we further AEO’s commitment to antiracism, equality and social justice.”

The first round of applications are due March 1, 2021, and winners will be selected by April 1, 2021. Applicants can apply online. Fifteen winners will be selected the first year, all of whom are eligible to receive up to $40,000, which can be used to pay for tuition, housing and books. Recipients will also be assigned a mentor, someone at American Eagle Outfitters who can assist with career development and navigating the college experience.

Schottenstein said the goal is to continue the program for at least the next 10 years, which will help approximately 125 associates pursue a post-secondary school education. If successful, the company will continue beyond its initial $5 million commitment, he said. American Eagle Outfitters’ employees can apply at any time during their undergraduate careers and are eligible to receive the scholarship for up to four years, provided they maintain the scholarship guidelines.

“The AEO Real Change Scholarship for Social Justice demonstrates our commitment to help end racism, inequality and discrimination — and create lasting change through the educational advancement of the next generation of leaders,” Schottenstein said.

In addition to the scholarship, American Eagle Outfitters also offers a tuition-reimbursement benefit to qualifying associates. Other efforts aimed at social justice issues include naming a chief inclusion and diversity officer earlier this year, matching employee contributions up to $100,000 to organizations fighting racism and social justice causes and pledging $500,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund to support the nonprofit’s education equity work and scholarships for Black students.