Walmart will begin offering free college tuition and books to its 1.5 million U.S. employees, the latest effort by the country’s largest private employer to attract and retain workers in a tight labor market.
The retail giant said Tuesday it will invest nearly $1 billion over the next five years in career training and development programs for workers who want to pursue majors in high-demand fields, such as business administration, supply chain and cybersecurity.
The company had previously required its Walmart and Sam’s Club workforce to pay $1 a day to participate in its college education program.
“We are creating a path of opportunity for our associates to grow their careers at Walmart,” Lorraine Stomski, the company’s senior vice president of learning and leadership, said during a media call. “This investment is another way we can support our associates to pursue their passion and purpose while removing the barriers that too often keep adult working learners from obtaining degrees.”
Walmart’s Live Better U education program was created three years ago to help employees advance within the company.
Workers can choose from 10 academic partners, including the University of Arizona, the University of Denver, Purdue University Global and Southern New Hampshire University.More than 52,000 employees have participated and 8,000 have graduated since 2018.
“Our education offerings tie directly to our growth areas at Walmart, and what better way to fill the pipeline of future talent than with our own associates,” Stomski said.
Federal data show that higher education levels tend to correspond with higher earnings and lower unemployment rates.
Workers with a bachelor’s degree had median weekly earnings of $1,305 last year, compared with $938 for those with an associate degree and $781 for high school graduates, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Walmart has taken steps to boost pay for some hourly workers in recent months, though its starting hourly wage of $11 lags behind many of its competitors, including Target, Amazon and Costco, which all pay at least $15 an hour.
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