Walmart to expand college program with $1 billion investment

Walmart is ending its $1-a-day college benefit pricing for about 1.5 million U.S. employees and instead investing $1 billion over the next five years to provide free classes and books to any part-time employee full or part-time from Walmart or Sam’s Club participating in the Live Better U program.

The $1 program ends August 16. Since Live Better U was first offered in 2018, the retailer said 52,000 employees have participated and 8,000 have graduated. Lorraine Stomski, senior vice president of learning and advancement at Walmart, said 28,000 employees were actively enrolled in the program this summer. She said there were no plans to reimburse the 8,000 participants who paid $1 a day for the benefit.

“We are creating a pathway 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 at a press conference on Tuesday. July 27. “This investment is another way to help our associates pursue their passion and purpose while removing the barriers that too often prevent working adult learners from earning degrees.”

Walmart said the program is expanding to add four university 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 set up in 2018 and new learning disciplines are being added.

“We’re also excited to add high-demand college degrees and certificates in business administration, supply chain and cybersecurity. These additional offerings join a strong catalog of programs to prepare associates for new career opportunities,” said Stomski. “Our training offerings tie directly into our areas of growth at Walmart, and what better way to fill the pool of future talent than with our own associates.”

She said program participants are twice as likely to be promoted and are retained at a significantly higher rate. Walmart specifies that participants must remain employed at least part-time until graduation to qualify.

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 pathway 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 student debt, knowing cost is the biggest barrier to earning a degree.

Student loan debt in the United States tops $1.7 trillion this year and continues to raise concerns about the financial futures of many young adults and as President Joe Biden continues to advocate for some cancellation of the debt, economists say the burden of student debt is holding many families back financially.

Walmart’s expanded Live Better U program will offer 19 different bachelor’s degrees and 8 career degree programs for trades like electricians, plumbers and pharmacy technicians. There are 8 certification programs in areas such as human resources, staff training and development, and operations and supply chain. The program also covers high school completion, English as a second language as well as preparation courses for the ACT and SAT college entrance exams.

Walmart’s move to provide tuition and free books comes as the retail sector faces unprecedented challenges in retaining its workforce. In June, the Department of Labor reported that 649,000 retail workers had given notice to quit their jobs in April. It was the biggest exodus in a month since the agency began tracking industry data more than two decades ago.

Rebecca Givan, a professor of labor studies at Rutgers University, recently said the lack of childcare and low wages with inconsistent schedules are prompting more people to jump the retail ship.

“On the contrary, the pandemic has made retail jobs even less sustainable than they already were. Workers are choosing not to take new jobs or keep their jobs unless they are guaranteed sufficient wages to support their families,” Givan noted in his Twitter feed.

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