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Walmart debuts big new employee benefit

The nation’s biggest private employer will pay for its associates to get a college degree—with a caveat.

Walmart on Wednesday unveiled a new education benefit, in partnership with education benefits platform Guild Education, for all full- and part-time Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club associates. Under the program, the discounter will subsidize the cost of higher education, beyond financial aid and an employee contribution equivalent to $1 a day—if the candidate is pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in business or supply chain management. Walmart estimates that as many as 68,000 of its associates initially could sign up for the program.

Walmart will subsidize the cost of tuition, books and fees, eliminating the need for student loan debt. Degrees will be offered through the University of Florida, Brandman University and Bellevue University. The schools, all nonprofit, were selected for their focus and strong outcomes on serving working adult learners, Walmart said.

“Investing in the personal and professional success of our associates is vital to Walmart’s future success,” said Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart U.S.

We know training and learning opportunities empower associates to deliver for customers while growing and advancing in their careers.

Currently, Walmart helps workers complete their high school education and take the GED. In addition, associates can jumpstart their path to completion by earning college credit for paid training at Walmart Academies. Hundreds of thousands of associates have already undergone skills training equivalent to more than $210 million in college credits.

Under the new program, the associate contribution toward a college degree would be just $1 a day. Associates who participate program will receive support from a Guild Education coach on everything from the application and enrollment process to selecting the appropriate degree.

“Walmart has kicked off what might be the nation’s most scalable approach to creating educational opportunity for America’s workforce, now available to its U.S. associates and their families,” said Rachel Carlson, CEP and co-founder of Guild Education. “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.”

Walmart said it is committed to an independent evaluation of the outcome of its new offering. The Lumina Foundation has agreed to research and measure the impact and effectiveness of the program and will work with the Walmart team to share findings.

Retailers across the U.S. have been sweeting the pot for employees in the face of a tight labor market. Earlier this year, Walmart raised its starting wage rate for U.S. hourly employees to $11, and also expanded its maternity and parental leave benefits.

The new education benefit comes as select other retailers, including Starbucks and Amazon, are helping their employees pay for higher education. In March, Lowe’s kicked off a pilot workforce program, “Track to the Trades,” aimed at providing financial support and innovative career alternatives to its employees who want to pursue a skilled trade.  The Home Depot is donating $50 million, through its Home Depot Foundation, to train 20,000 tradespeople over the next 10 years in an effort to fill the skilled labor gap.

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