Walmart is investing in its employees' higher education.
The company said Tuesday that it would pay 100% of college tuition and books for associates through its Live Better U education program in an effort to help build avenues for success and long-term career opportunities without the burden of education debt. The company, which also owns and operates Sam's Club, said it was committing nearly $1 billion over the next five years to the career training and development program.
Nearly 1.5 million part-time and full-time Walmart and Sam’s Club associates in the U.S. will be eligible to earn college degrees or learn trade skills, the company said.
"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 vice president of learning and leadership at Walmart, in a statement. "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."
“We’re also excited to add in-demand college degree and certificate options in business administration, supply chain and cybersecurity. These additional offerings join a robust catalog of programs to set associates up for new career opportunities,” Stomski added. “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.”
The company said that associates who are part of the program will also no longer be required to contribute a $1 per day fee, which had been in place since the program had initially launched.
The company has also added four new academic partners to the program: Johnson & Wales University, the University of Arizona, the University of Denver and Pathstream. They join its list of existing partners, including Brandman University, Penn Foster, Purdue University Global, Southern New Hampshire University, Wilmington University and Voxy EnGen.
"We are thrilled to partner with Guild Education and Walmart in our mission to deliver Arizona’s world-class higher education programs to working adult learners in a flexible, engaging and highly effective way,” said Dr. Robert C. Robbins, president of the University of Arizona, in the statement. Guild Education is Walmart's partner in developing higher education programs.
The cost of education is still a leading barrier to earning a degree, with student loan debt in the U.S. topping $1.7 trillion. Walmart said its Live Better U program has had more than 52,000 associate participants since 2018, with 8,000 of them graduating.
Rachel Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild Education, hailed Walmart for "setting a new standard for what it looks like to prepare workers for the jobs of the future."