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Driving for Uber in Tampa? The ride-share company will pay your tuition in new Uber Pro program

Tampa Bay Uber drivers have a new incentive to keep driving: The ride share company will pay their tuition.

A new program called Uber Pro is being tested in Tampa Bay and seven other areas, including Orlando. It will rank drivers into different categories based off of how many rides they’ve completed. Once they’ve hit 3,000 rides, the company will cover tuition for online classes at Arizona State University.

"What this is about is a new way to recognize drivers and their commitment," said Uber’s head of drivers, Daniel Danker. "Drivers are working every single day to provide opportunities for themselves and… for their families."

Danker said a driver can also extend the tuition perk to a family member. To qualify, drivers have to reach Uber Pro’s "platinum" or "diamond" status — there’s also a "partner" followed by a "gold" status. Danker said a series of rewards to help drivers earn more while working get unlocked as the drivers rack up rides.

Phil Regier, ASU’s dean for educational initiatives, said drivers will have to apply and gain admission to the university like anyone else to access the online classes for its 80 undergraduate degree programs. Students will then apply for financial aid like normal, Regier said, and Uber will cover whatever balance is left.

There are also a series of classes under the program called "pathway to admission" for those who need to learn how to handle the rigour of college courses. For those students who don’t qualify for ASU and don’t want a degree, Regier said they can take Uber-covered English as a second language or entrepreneurship classes.

Read more: Uber says ride app funnels $1.1 billion a year into Florida’s economy

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Danker said more than half of Uber drivers surveyed said they had plans to start their own business within the next five years. Uber will continue surveying drivers within the beta markets for the Uber Pro program before unrolling it nationwide.

To qualify, drivers also have to maintain a 4.85-star rating and have a low cancellation rate. They can earn perks such as faster airport pickups and free dent repairs. They can get up to 25 percent off car maintenance at 20,000 shops, and up to 5 percent cash back on gas with an Uber Visa Debit Card

Riders will also be able to see a driver’s status. Outside of the two Florida metro areas, Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, Phoenix and New Jersey drivers are also testing Uber Pro.

Regier said the Uber program is just the latest example of what’s to come as those seeking education search for flexibility in both their work and school life.

"It’s the tip of what we will be seeing over and over again in the future," Regier said. "A high-quality education experience, same faculty, same courses, (and a) very flexible employment experience."

Danker said that a lot of regular drivers reach 3,000 rides and meet the requirements to maintain the new "platinum" and "diamond" statuses already. He said he had a driver in California on Wednesday morning that was at 21,000.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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