Hoping to shrink debt burden, Walmart drops fees from tuition benefit

Three years after the launch of its tuition-assistance program, the nation’s largest private employer announced it will drop the program’s $1-a-day fee and fully cover associates’ college tuition and books. Walmart officials said they also are expanding the number of academic partners and programs, for an estimated investment of almost $1 billion across five years.

Recent research, however, has shown that a significant share of the billions of dollars earmarked for corporate tuition-benefit programs goes unused as workers struggle to carve out time for education and cover fees up front.

Related: How much do employer-funded education benefits really boost access? >

Lorraine Stomski, senior vice president of learning and leadership at Walmart, said in a statement that the company hopes that removing the $1-a-day fee will enable more of Walmart’s 1.5 million U.S. employees to “to pursue their passion and purpose while removing the barriers that too often keep adult working learners from obtaining degrees.”

Refining for maximum impact

Walmart created its Live Better U education program in June 2018 as part of a targeted effort to boost retention. Initially, the program paid for its part- and full-time employees to earn bachelor’s or associate’s degrees through online programs offered by three institutions. The benefit covered tuition (after accounting for scholarships and other financial aid), textbooks, and other fees for programs in business or supply chain management; it required participants to work at Walmart for the duration of the program and pay a $1 daily copayment to Walmart.

Related: Walmart launches ‘$1-a-day’ college tuition plan in targeted effort to boost retention >

Since then, more than 52,000 associates have participated in the tuition-assistance program—28,000 this summer alone—and 8,000 have earned a degree. Walmart also has added high school, technology, health and wellness, and skilled trade offerings. Thus far, employees who participate in the program are twice as likely to advance in the organization and have a “significantly higher” retention rate, Stomski told CNN.

Noting that “the economy and job market have changed” since it first launched the LBU program, Walmart says the program updates are intended to ensure employees can earn degrees without incurring student debt. The company will add four more academic partners, along with programs in cybersecurity.

CNN, NPR, Walmart
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