$1 a day helps buy a college degree for Walmart workers

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,731 views 

Walmart is investing in college degrees for its U.S. workforce with a new benefit to any full-time or part-time worker wanting to pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree online.

Walmart announced the education benefit Wednesday (May 30) as more than 4,400 employees are in Northwest Arkansas for the retailer’s annual shareholders week activities. Julie Murphy, executive vice president of Walmart People division, told the media the retailer estimates about 68,000 of its U.S workforce might want to take part. The cost is $1 a day with Walmart subsidizing tuition, books and fees at the University of Florida, Brandman (Calif.) University and Bellevue (Neb.) University. Each school has online programming for business and supply chain management, two career areas Walmart is allowing employees to study.

Murphy said the reason for the $1 per day fee is to allow employees to have ownership in the program without it also being a burden.

Walmart also partnered with Guild Education to help Walmart employees design individual education plans to best meet their scheduling needs. Guild CEO Rachel Carlson said Walmart employees will be assigned personal trainers for their education journey.

“Walmart has kicked off what might be the nation’s most scalable approach to creating educational opportunity for America’s workforce,” Carlson said. “Walmart is also leading innovation at the intersection of workforce development and higher education by helping associates earn college credit for their on-the-job training.”

Carlson said Walmart conducted an exhaustive study of dozens of colleges to find three which were selected for their focus on working adults as well as strong outcomes with various ethnic groups in the areas of business and supply chain management. She said Brandman University has a graduation rate of 82%, where nationally the rate is 55%.

Walmart said it will begin signing up workers Wednesday and declined to say how much they expect the program to cost. Murphy said because the plans are individualized with the help of Guild Education, the cost will vary with each worker depending on course load and the college selected.

The cost per credit hour at the University of Florida for online learning toward a bachelor’s degree is $129.19, or roughly $360 per class, according to the college’s website. The cost per college hour at Brandman, an online university, is $500 per credit hour or $1,500 per course. At Belleview, located in Nebraska, online tuition is $415 per credit hour.

The only requirements beside the $1 day cost is employees must have completed their first 90 days with the company and finished introductory training for their jobs. Murphy said there is no back-end service requirement and no penalties if they choose to leave the company immediately following completion.

Walmart said it looked at various models, including Starbucks, when fashioning its own program. The Starbucks program began in 2015 and uses the Arizona State University online degree plan, which at the time of the announcement cost about $15,000 per year.  Murphy said about 7,000 Starbucks workers signed up, and given Walmart’s scale they expect a much larger response.

Walmart said retention of employees is a goal but there are also benefits in helping workers further their education without having to stack up student loan debt. The retailer said it has offered employees a chance to complete their high school diplomas and has also provided training through its academies which are equal to $210 million in college credits over the past two years. Walmart also said passing each course would be the minimum requirement to continue in the program.

To evaluate the program, Walmart has partnered with Lumina Foundation to research the impact and effectiveness and then share the findings with the retail giant.

“I commend Walmart for trying an innovative strategy to increase the skills and post-secondary education of its workers and for committing to have the Lumina Foundation conduct an independent evaluation of the program. I look forward to studying Lumina’s findings,” said Alan Krueger, a Princeton University professor of economics.