Walmart is committed to winning the future of retail and knows that investing in its people is essential to serving customers today and in the future. As the nation’s largest private employer, Walmart estimates that about 25,000 employees under the age of 18 work at its stores, a fraction of its 1.3 million person U.S. workforce. But the retailer has to compete with other major employers to find and retain higher quality, entry level employees in a historically strong labor market. To help attract and retain younger workers, Walmart announced on June 4, 2019, that is extending its debt-free college benefits to high schoolers.
Walmart will include new technology degrees and certificates for only $1 a day and offer high school students a bridge into the workforce, including access to all its learning programs. These enhancements come a year after Walmart announced the education benefit, which is designed to help remove barriers — like cost, time, and earning a relevant degree in a changing economy — that too often keep adult learners from furthering their educations. Less than a year after launch, more than 7,500 Walmart associates from all 50 states have been accepted into at least one of the programs — ahead of the retailer’s projections.
High School Expansion
High school students face unique challenges when it comes to work and education. The economic boom, which has fueled 103 straight months of hiring, is set to become the longest in history next month. And yet the cost of college remains a significant barrier for many high school students, which often leads to costly student loans. The Center for Microeconomic Data recently reported that student loan debt is now nearly $1.5 trillion.
In a tight labor market, teens who want to work face competition from older workers, young college graduates, and foreign workers. With fewer and fewer teens entering the workforce. the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2024 only 26 percent of teens will have a job. But having a job helps teens build confidence, work ethic, independence, financial knowledge, and perhaps most importantly, creates work experience that helps students as they transition into adulthood and a career.
That’s why Walmart is trying to make itself a more attractive option for young workers. Walmart’s program provides students an end-to-end workforce solution, from access to jobs, to building foundational soft skills and more advanced skills through work-based training, and an opportunity to earn a debt-free college degree. Along with other eligible Walmart associates, high school students will now have access to:
Jobs with scheduling options for flexibility or core hours (work the same days and shifts for up to 13 weeks), free ACT and SAT prep, up to seven hours of free college credit through Live Better U’s College Start program, and a debt-free college degree through Live Better U (upon high school completion) in the in-demand fields of technology, business, and management at six nonprofit universities.
Technology Degrees and Certificates
Walmart is expanding the offering of debt-free college programs that associates can earn through its Live Better U education benefits. The additional 14 technology degrees and certificates — like cyber security, computer science, computing technology, computer and network security — are in addition to the business and supply chain degrees already being offered for $1 a day.
The technology additions to Live Better U highlight the importance of Walmart’s enterprise-wide digital transformation while also providing associates opportunities for economic mobility. Live Better U’s technology programs — in addition to the supply chain, retail management and business management degrees — create career pathways both within the retailer and externally. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in computer fields grew by 21 percent from 2009 to 2015 — more than four times the rate of roles outside of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) sector.
In the coming months, Walmart expects to add even more degrees and certificates in additional fields that will support both employee demand and growing competition, as the world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer goes head to head with e-commerce behemoth Amazon. For example, Walmart plans to improve its existing fleet of stores for the digital age by expanding its online grocery pickup and delivery, along with web-based fulfillment of customer orders. “So what’s going to happen is that this store is not going to be just a store, it’s going to be a fulfillment center,” Walmart US CEO Greg Foran told Yahoo Finance.
About Live Better U
Live Better U meets associates where they are on their educational journey by creating access, removing barriers, and empowering associates to go as far in their education — and careers — as their hard work and talents will take them. The program includes the debt-free $1 a day degree program, free high school completion for associates and eligible family members, discounts on higher education programs like master’s degrees, free foreign language learning and much more — all in partnership with Guild Education, a firm that helps companies offer education benefits to employees.
Associates can now earn degrees and certificates at six nonprofit universities, which were selected for their success with adult learners. Southern New Hampshire University, Purdue University Global and Wilmington University are new to Live Better U and join the University of Florida, Brandman University and Bellevue University. For the program, Walmart has worked with the universities to tailor their content to make it more relevant to the work the associates are doing at the company.
“Since launching with Guild a year ago, thousands of Walmart associates have now headed back to school debt-free, collectively saving tens of millions of dollars in student debt,” said Rachel Carlson, CEO of Guild Education. “As the largest employer in the nation, Walmart’s education program is creating unparalleled access for millions of Americans to gain a meaningful education and economic mobility.”
Walmart is also creating the Live Better U Scholar Awards, a graduation bonus program for Walmart U.S. associates who have not previously completed college credits. The award underscores Live Better U’s focus on completion, celebrates the associate’s achievements, and will offset — and in many cases pay back — the associate’s $1 per day contribution to the program. Up to 5,000 associates each year will be eligible for the awards valued at $1,500 each.
The Walmart Academy
Additionally, associates can get college credit for training they receive on the job through Walmart academies. The Walmart Academy, the retail giant’s in-house career training program, has provided the company with a template that “helps build confidence and helps to start to shape and form individual’s work ethic, as well as knowledge of the business world and how they can navigate through the business world,” said Julie Murphy, EVP of People at Walmart US.
The free academies, located in the back of about 200 stores, teach associates customer service techniques, retail math, and how to use new technology, among other skills. Hundreds of thousands of associates have already undergone skills training equivalent to more than $300 million in college credits toward the program.
What People are Saying
Paul LeBlanc, President and CEO of Southern New Hampshire University
“Walmart is taking the lead on workforce development, connecting their employees with the opportunity to earn a degree that will help them get ahead in their life and career without taking on debt. SNHU’s collaboration with Walmart will expand access to education for thousands of associates and is a model for aligning employer demand with the kind of workforce-applicable higher education we have pioneered at SNHU.”
Dr. Mary Hawkins, President of Bellevue University
“Live Better U is more than an education assistance program; it’s a strategy that creates opportunities to learn and apply learning at work. We’ve had incredibly active student participation by Walmart associates in our business cohort degree programs, and we’ve seen retention rates that are above our university average. It’s been a remarkable first year of the program, and we are excited to embark on year 2 as we expand our degree offerings to Walmart associates.”
John Gomperts, President and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance
“Employers need people who have the education and skills to thrive in a fast-changing workplace. That’s why Walmart’s investment in developing the education and workplace skills of its employees is so significant. Walmart is showing how employers can help young people be ready, connected, and supported to succeed in the workplace.”
Danette Howard, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Lumina Foundation
“Lumina is proud to partner with Walmart to measure the effects of the Live Better U program on its employees and its bottom line. Many companies support employees with tuition benefits, but few have built programs like Walmart’s, which is built to encourage workers to finish their educations. The introduction of the graduation bonus is one more way Walmart is creating pathways for its associates.”
Eric Seleznow, senior adviser at Jobs for the Future (JFF.org)
“There is real power in work-based learning. When young people work, they gain critical employment skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, and communications. These skills serve them well immediately and in their future. This enhanced program is the latest example of how employers can step up to support continued education and learning for America’s young people and prepare them for the careers of today and tomorrow.”
Greg Foran, President and CEO of Walmart US
“Walmart values learning in all forms, and we are committed to creating a workforce of lifelong learners and instilling in them excitement for retail and a passion for serving customers. Access to higher education is one way to grow your career. So, in addition to providing people with an entry to the workforce and access to our on-the-job training I’m proud Walmart also offers our associates programs like Live Better U to help them achieve their educational goals.”