Wednesday, July 14, 2010

History of the Disney College Program

In the mid-1970’s, Walt Disney World was losing employees at a growing rate, primarily due to the length of time it took to get to work. Driving, parking, getting in costume, and walking through the Utilidoors added a lot of extra time to workers’ already long days of work. With the opening of EPCOT Center on the horizon, WDW’s Human Resources did everything it could to get the employee turnover rate more manageable, since so much time and expense was spent on training new employees, and would need to be spent on the new recruits to staff EPCOT Center.

With the opening of Walt Disney World, staffing the Magic Kingdom was much easier, as Disney received tens of thousands of applications to fill only a few thousand positions. But Disney would need another source of labor to fill the many new positions at EPCOT Center, as it did not have the overflow of applications as it did years before.

Disney had a history of partnering with universities to hire small groups of students, in return for college credit. Even as early as 1970, Disney began a program in which college students would alternate between a semester at school and a semester of work in exchange for credit, as long as the type of work was related to the students’ area of studies.

With so many of the positions at the Magic Kingdom and the upcoming EPCOT Center having little do to most students’ line of study, Disney created a series of weekly seminars on the Disney management style. That way, college students could fill positions in attractions, foods, custodial, guest relations, merchandise and hospitality. In exchange for their work, they received college credit and noteworthy work experience.

Two years before the opening of EPCOT Center, Disney recruiters visited the University of Alabama, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Georgia to raise student interest in a new summer internship program. During these preliminary recruitments, Disney chose 250 college students to work at the Magic Kingdom for the summer and live off-property.

This very first installment of the Disney College Program gained such positive feedback that in spring 1981, recruiters went to over 40 schools and selected 248 students to participate in the Magic Kingdom College Program, as it was called. Students lived in trailers in an area called “Snow White Village.” The property was an abandoned trailer park in Kissimmee, so Disney had the dilapidated trailers removed, and had 32 specially designed trailers installed. The trailer park also featured a swimming pool, recreation center and a full-time security guard.

The program became a growing hit among college students across the country. Over 60 schools showed interest in participation, but Disney only had room for about 350 positions. So Disney only hired about 5 out of every 300 applicants from each college. This growing demand led to Disney offering three separate programs during the year: 3 months in the spring, summer, or fall.

With the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982, the College Program began employing closer to 500 students in each of the three sessions. Now called the Walt Disney World College Program, college students filled positions in both the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT Center. “Snow White Village” was designed as temporary housing, not long-term use. The trailers didn’t have phones, and the furnishings were severely outdated. So in 1988, Vista Way apartments opened, located much closer to the theme parks.

Over the years the program grew to several hundred colleges in participation, with over 1,200 students being hired three times a year. With the 1989 opening of Disney-MGM Studios, Typhoon Lagoon and Pleasure Island, the College Program expanded even further. Three more housing complexes were built to house the growing number of program participants. Over 8,000 students a year have participated since 2005.

The Walt Disney World College Program and the college opportunities at Disneyland were combined in 2004 into the Disney Theme Parks and Resorts College Program, called the Disney College Program. The program continues to expand and has grown to include a range of educational and career advancement opportunities.


Anonymous said...

Hy Zach, I live in Puerto Rico and have and investment of the Disney Colleague Program, and I have to know how much money we have to spend to go for a Disney College Program..maybe including the flight ticket for the auditions for characters and everything... Can yo help me? Please and email is

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