Walmart, one of America’s largest employers, is offering its workers a college education for $1 a day, the company recently announced.
The associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in business or supply chain management can be received from three online programs and will be made available for Walmart and Sam’s Club’s 1.4 million part-time, full-time and salaried employees.
“I definitely plan to look into it,” said Debbie Goudeaux, who works at a Walmart in a Houston suburb. “I totally appreciate them doing this. I know a lot of companies already do it, offer education opportunities for their employees, so in a way it is overdue.
“I dropped out of college to work, so maybe this will help me finally finish my degree in business administration,” Goudeaux said.
The University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., Brandman University in Irvine, Calif., and Bellevue University in Bellevue, Neb., will offer the degrees through online programs. Employees can sign up for the program after working for 90 days with the company.
The retailer said it will cover the cost of tuition, books and fees at three partnering universities as long as employees get their degrees in business or supply-chain management.
The program is intended to improve retention rates and engagement at work while attracting new talent.
“I think it helps us fulfill our mission,” said Cris Hay-Merchant, a spokeswoman at Bellevue University, one of the schools participating in the program. That mission, she said, is to serve working adults with educational opportunities.
At the same time, Hay-Merchant said, Walmart enhances its employees’ skills and has a better shot at retaining its employees.
“It’s a tight market to hire people,” she said in a statement on the university’s website.
Walmart’s announcement prompted 18-year-old Stephon Algernon of Houston to apply for a job with the retail chain.
“I graduate next week and I didn’t apply for college yet,” he said. “This might be one opportunity for me. I will have to look into it.
“A dollar a day adds up. I guess it depends on how long it takes to complete the degree. You can look at it like it’s still cheaper to go this route though.”
Supply chain management, in commerce, is the flow goods and services and involves the movement and storage of raw materials, work-in-process inventory, and of finished goods from point of origin to point of consumption.
With record-low unemployment, retailers like Walmart have struggled to attract and retain workers. In March, there were 723,000 open jobs in retail, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We know there [are] a lot of benefits from a business perspective,” Drew Holler, vice president of people innovation for Walmart U.S., told reporters. “We know we’re going to see an influx of applications.”
Walmart is one of many retail and service industry companies that is improving its employee benefits to help retain workers.
Earlier this year, the retail giant raised their starting hourly wage from $9 to $11 and began offering full-time employees paid parental leave and adoption benefits.
According to information on Brandman University’s website, the Walmart “arrangements were made in partnership with Guild Education, an education benefits platform that already includes Brandman as an option for other partners in its program.”
“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, chief executive officer 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.”
While the cost of the program is not yet clear, Walmart executives said they expect at least 68,000 employees to sign up within the first five years, according to a Washington Post report.
Walmart did not say how much its program is expected to cost, but officials estimate about 68,000 employees could enroll within the first five years.
“Investing in the personal and professional success of our associates is vital to Walmart’s future success,” Greg Foran, Walmart U.S. chief executive officer, said in a statement.
The college tuition program will provide workers with support from a Guild Education coach, which will be available to help with the application and enrollment process.
Employees enrolled in the program will not be penalized if they leave the retailer before the completion of their degree and will not be obligated to remain with the company after they finish the program.
Walmart said the goal won’t be focused on the number of employees enrolled. The company intends to measure itself on the completion rate.
“We want to focus on how do we provide the best possible experience and get people across the finish line,” Holler said.