Walmart will pay for full college tuition and book costs at some schools for its US workers, the latest effort by the largest private employer in the country to sweeten its benefits as it seeks to attract and retain talent in a tight job market.
The program includes 10 academic partners ranging from the University of Arizona to Southern New Hampshire University. Participants must remain part-time or full-time employees at Walmart to be eligible.
The company said Tuesday that it will drop a previous $1 a day fee paid by Walmart and Sam’s Club workers who want to earn a degree and also begin covering the costs of their books. Around 28,000 workers participate in the program, which Walmart began in 2018. Walmart has around 1.5 million workers.
“We feel that eliminating the dollar a day investment removes the financial barriers to enrollment, and it will increase access,” Lorraine Stomski, senior vice president of learning and leadership at Walmart (WMT), said on a call with reporters Tuesday.
Walmart also said it was adding four new academic partners, bringing the total to 10, and offering more degree and certificate options in areas like business administration, supply chain and cybersecurity.
Walmart has incentive to expand the program. Employees who have participated in the program are twice as likely to get promoted and are retained at a “significantly higher rate” than other workers, Stomski said.
The move comes as retailers around the country face challenges hiring employees to staff stores and warehouses.
In May, there were 974,000 unfilled jobs in the retail industry, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Walmart earlier this year raised wages for 425,000 US workers to at least $13 an hour. Walmart’s minimum wage is $11 an hour, below competitors such as Amazon (AMZN) and Target’s (TGT)$15 starting rate.
Other retailers are also increasing wages, offering hiring and referral bonuses and expanding benefits as they hunt for workers.
Here’s a list of Walmart’s participating partners:
Johnson & Wales University
The University of Arizona
The University of Denver
Purdue University Global
Southern New Hampshire University