Full-time, part-time and salaried U.S. Walmart associates that have worked for at least 90 days in stores, throughout the supply chain, at corporate or for Sam's Club are now eligible for financial and academic assistance to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in business or supply chain management from three participating nonprofit universities: University of Florida, Brandman University and Bellevue University.
The participating universities were chosen because of their focus on adult learning and graduation rates, Walmart announced Wednesday. The program is being offered in partnership with Guild Education, which will provide weekly academic counseling to associates pursuing degrees.
Unlike typical tuition reimbursement programs offered through corporations, associates in this new program would only pay out of pocket $1 a day until the completion of their degree while Walmart subsidizes the cost of tuition, books and fees beyond financial aid. Those that have graduated from or are still enrolled in the Walmart Academy program could receive between four and 19 college credits, depending on the degree they are pursuing, Walmart Spokeswoman Erica Jones told Retail Dive. She added that the company anticipates 68,000 Walmart employees will enroll in the new program over the next five years.
College assistance programs are a growing benefit being offered by retailers and other businesses that are aiming to boost specific skill development and retention within the workforce.
Notably in the retail industry, Starbucks last year began offering full tuition coverage for full- and part-time workers seeking a bachelor's degree from Arizona State University. And Best Buy offers full-time employees reimbursement of tuition, fee and textbook costs up to $3,500 a year for undergraduate and $5,250 for graduate-level coursework. Programs like Walmart's, which do not focus on tuition reimbursement, could be especially beneficial in the retail industry, which suffers a high turnover rate. Cost is also one of the biggest barriers to entry when it comes to earning a degree.
As this program expands over the next year, Walmart's first push toward supporting education will phase out. Since 2010, Walmart has been offering 15% tuition scholarships to a select number of applicants and eligible family members pursuing online degrees at for-profit institution American Public University. Those currently in the program will continue to be supported by Walmart and the company is looking for ways to help those interested transfer to the new program, Jones said.
The program is a part of Walmart's broader push to invest in employee education and training, Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart U.S., said in a statement. "Investing in the personal and professional success of our associates is vital to Walmart's future success," he said. "We know training and learning opportunities empower associates to deliver for customers while growing and advancing in their careers."
In recent years, Walmart has taken steps to change its reputation as a low-wage employer. While education programs are one way to offer opportunities for upward mobility, higher pay also helps. The retailer in January announced it was increasing its starting hourly pay to $11 an hour.
Employee education has become an increasingly important investment for Walmart. Its academies have graduated over 400,000 employees since its inception two years ago. And last January, the company joined 20 other retailers and the National Retail Federation to launch the Rise Up credentialing program and pledge to help individuals secure the skills and training they need to prepare them for current and future jobs in the retail sector.
At the time, Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart Foundation president and Walmart chief sustainability officer, told Retail Dive that executives spent a year looking at retail jobs and asking themselves one key question: "What could we do as a retailer, given we have a lot of retail jobs and an understanding of what's required for people to succeed, that would accelerate the mobility of people from entry-level jobs to jobs of higher responsibility and authority, management jobs. What would that look like?"
Walmart seems to be answering that same question again. The program will be evaluated on impact and effectiveness by the Lumina Foundation, which will share its findings with Walmart.