Walmart to offer free college tuitions and books to 1.5 million U.S. employees

Retail giant Walmart set to offer free college tuition and books to its 1.5 million U.S. employees, the latest attempt by the company to attract and retain workers in a market that is finding good labor hard to come by.

The country’s largest private employer said on Tuesday that it will invest about $1 billion over the course of five years in career training and development programs for workers looking to get their majors in high-demand fields. Fields such as business administration, supply chain, and cybersecurity are amongst the many preferred sectors.

Previously, the company required its Walmart and Sam’s Club workforce to pay a dollar a day to participate in the 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.”

The company’s Live Better U education program, beginning for free from August 16, was launched three years ago to aid employees in their advancement in the company. Several academic options will be provided to workers, including the University of Arizona, the University of Denver, Purdue University, and Southern New Hampshire University. Since 2018, over 52,000 employees have enrolled themselves for this program, 8,000 of them have graduated.

“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.

Peter Capelli, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said that tuition reimbursement that was once a cornerstone of Corporate America, has been pared back in recent decades as companies looked for ways to cut costs.

“The companies that are doing this — Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart — are very concerned about their reputation in the labor market, and they have the resources to do something about it,” Cappelli said. “But these are not your father’s tuition reimbursement programs. They are far more targeted and self-interested than the traditional tuition reimbursement programs, where you can get them from any university and study whatever you want.”

He further explained that these programs tend towards being relatively low-cost corporate investments because few employees are capable of signing up. For example, at Walmart, 28,000 employees- less than 2 percent of its U.S. workforce- are currently enrolled in the program.

“It’s the kind of corporate benefit that can be very generous without costing so much because it’s not going to be used very often,” he said.