Hormel Foods Corp. announced Tuesday that it will pay the tuition of a two-year college for any of its employees' children, reflecting a growing awareness among major U.S. corporations of the role they can play in addressing systemic racial and economic inequality.

The program is designed to be inclusive, without a GPA or test score threshold. The only academic requirement is that the student has to graduate from high school and meet any standards outlined by the college.

Hormel said it didn't want to just write a check to other organizations, but wanted to find ways to create meaningful change in the lives of its workers. Every graduating senior with a parent or caretaker who works at Hormel will be offered a free community-college education.

"When you look at our front-line workers, the people in the plant, that workforce is incredibly, incredibly diverse. So many of them are new to this country," said CEO Jim Snee. "And it's not only helping them in the dollars needed to accomplish the degree, but helping them fill out the applications and helping them understand what it takes to get into college. ... This is a hand up to make sure there is the opportunity for their family, and it will be a ripple effect for generations to come."

Many of the rural towns where Hormel has plants are facing declining populations as young people leave for jobs in cities and national immigration policies threaten to curtail its pipeline of future workers.

Creating opportunities for others can also benefit the company, Snee said. By offering workers more than just a job, he believes the company will be more successful at recruiting and retaining workers.

"Our plant managers are really excited to use this for recruitment," he said. "We don't know if that two-year opportunity will be the end of their education. If people go to community college and get a technical degree, we've got jobs for them. It also could be a steppingstone for them into a four-year degree."

Hormel had started designing the program before George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. But that event, which sparked a summer of uprisings still reverberating across the U.S., punctuated its importance.

"Having the social unrest in such an elevated manner — and so close to home — really accelerated our execution of these programs," Snee said. "When we think about how we react to these situations, everyone wants a quick reaction and quick comment, but it's not always the right thing to do. It's not about immediately writing a big check right out of the gate. We wanted to engage with our team members and, when this is all over, have a significant impact on their lives."

Hormel employees also selected three organizations for Hormel to give to: Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the United Negro College Fund.

Many of Hormel's employees in its processing plants are immigrants. This two-year college program is aimed at helping those and other families improve their economic status and build their future opportunities.

In addition to the financial support, Hormel has assembled teams of volunteers across the company that will help the students and their parents — for whom English may be their second language — understand the college application process and fill out the forms.

Hormel will work with community colleges located in cities and towns where it has operations. The company has a history of supporting educational equality, with the Hormel Foundation providing a free two-year college degree to any high school graduate in its hometown of Austin, Minn.

The company already offers a four-year scholarship program through National Merit Scholarship Corp., available for high-achieving students. Hormel also reimburses tuition for current employees who go back to school while working at the company.

The program will be available to the families of its U.S. employees. Hormel employs 20,000 people worldwide.