Walmart is ending the price of its $1 per-day college benefit for approximately 1.5 million U.S. employees and is instead making a $1 billion investment over the next five years to provide free tuition and books to any full-time or part-time employee at Walmart or Sam’s Club taking part in the Live Better U program.
The $1 program ends effective Aug. 16. Since Live Better U was first offered in 2018, the retailer said 52,000 employees have taken part with 8,000 graduations. Lorraine Stomski, senior vice president of learning and advancement at Walmart, said 28,000 employees are actively enrolled in the program this summer. She said there are no plans to reimburse the 8,000 participants who did pay the $1 per day for the benefit.
“We are creating a path of opportunity for our associates to grow their careers at Walmart, so they can continue to build better lives for themselves and their families,” Stomski said during a Tuesday (July 27) press conference. “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 said the program is being expanded to add four academic partners: Johnson & Wales University, University of Arizona, University of Denver and Pathstream. Existing partners are Brandman University, Penn Foster, Purdue University Global, Southern New Hampshire University, Wilmington University and Voxy EnGen.
Stomski said the job market has changed since the program was put into place in 2018 and new learning disciplines are being added.
“We’re also excited to add in-demand college degree and certificate options in business administration, supply chain and cybersecurity. These additional offerings join a robust catalog of programs to set associates up for new career opportunities,” said Stomski. “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.”
She said participants in the program are two times as likely to be promoted and are retained at a significantly higher rate. Walmart is specific that participants must remain employed at least part-time through graduation to get the benefit.
Walmart said it decided to remove the $1 per day cost to provide broader access to every employee. Stomski said the retailer is committed to creating a path of opportunity to help employees grow their careers. The benefit is available on day 1 of employment. She said Walmart is also committed to helping eliminate the burden of education debt knowing that cost is the leading barrier for earning a degree.
Student loan debt in the U.S tops $1.7 trillion this year and continues to raise concerns about the financial future of many young adults and while President Joe Biden continues to advocate for some debt cancellation, economists say student loan debt burdens are holding back many families financially.
Walmart’s expanded Live Better U program will offer 19 different bachelor’s degrees and 8 career diploma programs for trades like electricians, plumbing and pharmacy techs. There are 8 programs for certifications in areas like Human Resources, training and staff development as well as operations and supply chain. The program also covers high school completion, English as a Second Language as well as prep classes for the ACT and SAT college entrance exams.
Walmart’s move to provide free college tuition and books comes as the retail sector faces unprecedented challenges in retaining its labor force. In June, the Labor Department reported 649,000 retail workers put in their notice to leave their jobs in April. That was the biggest exodus for one-month since the agency began tracking the sector data more than two decades ago.
Rebecca Givan, a professor of labor studies at Rutgers University, recently said lack of child care and low pay with inconsistent hours are causing more people to jump off the retail ship.
“If anything, the pandemic has made retail jobs even less sustainable than they already were. Workers are choosing not to take new jobs or remain at jobs unless they’re guaranteed a family-sustaining wage,” Givan noted in her Twitter feed.