Walmart Inc. will fund college degrees for its U.S. workforce, the latest benefit rolled out by the nation’s largest private employer to reduce turnover and counter criticism over its treatment of staff.
The retailer company will subsidize tuition, books, and fees and provide support for the application and enrollment processes. As many as 68,000 employees might sign up, Walmart executives estimated.
Employees will pay just a dollar a day, which works out to about $75 per semester.
The tuition program — offered to part-time staff as well as full-timers — is the latest move by Walmart to improve employee retention and engagement.
Earlier this year, the company boosted its starting hourly wage to $11, expanded its maternity and parental leave policy and added an adoption benefit.
“Many of our associates don’t have the opportunity to complete a degree,” said Drew Holler, Walmart’s U.S. vice president of people innovation, in an interview.
“We felt strongly that this is something that would improve their lives and help us run a better business.”
Walmart declined to reveal potential costs. According to Guild Education, a company that helps large employers extend education benefits, programs such as these cost companies from $6,000 to $10,000 per worker annually.
This is not the first time Walmart has partially picked up the tab for its employees’ college classes. In 2010, it partnered with American Public University to offer online courses that counted toward a bachelor’s or master’s degree. But the company agreed to only cover up to 15% of tuition.
The retail giant is partnering with the University of Florida in Gainesville; Brandman University in Irvine, California; and Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska. All three are nonprofit universities that have online programs for working adults.
Courses can be taken at the campuses or online, Walmart said, and there’s no penalty for courses already taken if an employee leaves the company while enrolled in school. There’s also no requirement to continue working at Walmart for any period after receiving the degree.
Walmart estimates that as many as 5 percent of its U.S. workforce could take advantage of the college program. The company currently offers subsidized programs to help employees get their high-school diploma.
Other companies have made similar investments in higher education for employees. Starbucks provides workers a full ride to Arizona State University for undergraduate degrees in over 60 subjects. Also, Chipotle Mexican Grill gives its employees up to $5,250 in annual tuition assistance.
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