Amid one of the worst labor shortages in years, Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, says it will invest nearly $1 billion during the next five years in career-driven training and development. The company says it will pay 100% of college tuition and books for employees through its Live Better U (LBU) education program. Walmart has been steadily expanding to the program, which launched in 2018.
Starting Aug. 16, the program’s $1 a day fee will be removed for employees, making all education programs paid for by Walmart, reports Chain Store Age. This means approximately 1.5 million part-time and full-time U.S. Walmart and Sam’s Club associates can earn college degrees or learn trade skills without the burden of education debt, the company says.
Walmart noted that cost is a leading barrier for earning a degree with student-loan debt in the U.S. topping $1.7 trillion. The retailer said more than 52,000 employees have participated in LBU since its 2018 launch and 8,000 have graduated. Nearly 28,000 associates have been active in a LBU program this summer.
“We are creating a path of opportunity for our associates to grow their careers at Walmart, so they can continue to build better lives for themselves and their families,” said Lorraine Stomski, senior VP of learning and leadership at Walmart. “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.”
Walmart said its LBU program was initially designed after consulting with experts, reviewing other employer provided education programs, and studying the research around what helps drive completion rates among adult working learners. This helped guide the initial $1 a day approach, but the company noted that the economy and job market have changed, and Walmart is always looking for new ways to encourage more associates to pursue further education.
“We’re also excited to add in-demand college degree and certificate options in business administration, supply chain and cybersecurity,” added Stomski. “These additional offerings join a robust catalog of programs to set associates up for new career opportunities. 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.”
In addition, Walmart will add four academic partners: Johnson & Wales University, the University of Arizona, the University of Denver and Pathstream. These complement the existing partners: Brandman University, Penn Foster, Purdue University Global, Southern New Hampshire University, Wilmington University and Voxy EnGen. Each of these institutions were chosen for their history of success with adult and working learner programs as well as their focus on degree completion.
Walmart is also offering educational opportunities to the general public. In June, it launched Community Academy, a free program that leverages its network of over 200 Walmart Academies in stores across the country to offer educational opportunities to anyone in the community.