Last week, Walmart announced that it would follow the lead of other large retailers by offering to cover the cost of pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree for part-time and full-time employees who are currently enrolled (or will soon be enrolled) in high school. Students enrolled in this benefit are responsible for paying just $1 per day of college. Walmart’s significant contribution will help to defray the cost of tuition, books, and fees associated with higher education.
Prior to last week’s announcement, the company had only offered to cover the cost of higher education through this Live Better U benefit for students who will pursue a degree in business or supply chain management; this was an expansion of their 2018 program to help their employees live student debt-free. So far, 7,500 employees have enrolled in this educational benefit. Walmart expects about 60,000 of their employees to ultimately complete their academic programs in the next four years.
This week, Walmart tacked on a few more options for prospective young employees that include degrees in cybersecurity, information technology, and computer science. Walmart also added the opportunity for student employees to get free college exam test prep as well as up to seven hours of free college credit, giving them a boost even before they are accepted into college. Students must pursue these degrees from one of six non-profit universities, all of which offer online programs for working adults.
“We know high school students face challenges when it comes to work and education,” Julie Murphy, one of Walmart’s executive vice presidents, told reporters. By helping them with their higher education goals, the company hopes that high school students will be drawn to working at Walmart. Currently, unemployment levels across the country are low, which means that the labor market is competitive for retail companies who pay low wages.
Walmart currently only pays an entry wage of $11 per hour for its employees. A raised minimum wage in the company is something that Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders hopes to advocate for today on a stop in Arkansas. “I’m going to Bentonville, Arkansas, to tell the Walton family of Walmart, the wealthiest family in America: Get off welfare,” he wrote on Twitter. “Pay your workers a living wage!”
The higher education benefit will also serve to be like a job training program, preparing young employees for careers with Walmart that go beyond working the floor as a retail associate. “We see this as a pipeline that we can leverage,” added Murphy. “We want to be able to create that connection early.” Unlike some job training programs though, employees have no obligation to work at Walmart once they complete their degrees.