The American company Walmart is offering something new to its employees: help with earning a college degree.
Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States.
In the past, the company has helped its workers finish high school or pass the General Equivalency Development, or GED exam. The GED is designed to show one’s knowledge of high school-level skills.
Walmart hopes the chance to earn a college degree will help it find and keep higher quality entry-level employees in a competitive labor market.
Walmart is partnering with a company called Guild Education to offer employees the chance to get a bachelor’s degree in business or supply-chain management.
The program will cost a dollar a day at one of three non-profit schools: the University of Florida, Brandman University and Bellevue University. The Associated Press says all three universities have had success working with adult learners and offer programs through the internet.
Walmart plans to expand its program to other degrees in the future. It will also offer college-preparation classes for workers who need extra help. The company is paying for the cost of classes, books and other school-related costs so students will not need to borrow money.
Walmart said its program is open to both full-time and part-time workers who have been with the company at least 90 days.
The company expects about 68,000 of its 1.4 million U.S. employees to sign up in the first five years, said Julie Murphy, executive vice president of people at Walmart.
This new partnership is an example of how large retail businesses and restaurants are under pressure to improve the skills of their entry-level workers. It comes at a time when the jobs of entry-level workers are getting more complex, partly because of the growing popularity of online sales. Two other reasons are competition from online retailer Amazon and more demanding buyers.
Walmart already has a program to help workers and some of their family members earn a high school or GED degree. The company also trains managers at its Walmart Training Academy, and has a career program for entry-level workers.
Guild Education is a start-up company based in Denver, Colorado. The company has worked with other large businesses, including Chipotle Mexican Grill, Taco Bell and Lowe’s, on their employee education programs. But Rachel Carlson, a co-creator of Guild Education, says its partnership with Walmart is special in several ways, including its low costs.
Walmart’s new program is similar to one set up by Starbucks. Three years ago, Starbucks began offering four years of financial aid for an online college degree from Arizona State University.
I’m Phil Dierking.