Walmart is stepping up its effort to help employees wanting to earn college degrees by fully covering the cost of tuition and books. The company announced a nearly $1 billion five-year investment on Tuesday, the Washington Post reports, with employees able to pick from 10 academic partners like the University of Denver and Purdue University Global. The 28,000 Walmart and Sam's Club employees already enrolled in the program have been paying for their books in addition to $1 a day, a fee that will be dropped. That should increase access, said Walmart exec Lorraine Stomski. The federal government reported 974,000 open retail jobs in May. In addition to helping the company attract workers in a tight labor market, enrollees in the now three-year-old program are twice as likely to be promoted and have higher retention rates, per CNN.
Tuition reimbursement has been around a while, but a management professor said they're not the broad "study whatever you want" programs they used to be. "They are far more targeted and self-interested," said Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School. He sees it as a savvy move. "It's the kind of corporate benefit that can be very generous without costing so much, because it's not going to be used very often" due to employees' lack of time to participate, among other things. To wit, less than 2% of current Walmart employees are enrolled at the moment. About 8,000 employees have graduated by way of the Live Better U program so far. (The company has raised pay for some workers, but its starting rate is beat by the likes of Target, Amazon, and Costco.)