Walmart wants to help its employees get their college degrees, and is putting up the cash to make that happen.
Bloomberg reported Wednesday that the giant retail chain will now help subsidize tuition, books, fees, and help with the application process for employees seeking either an associates or bachelors degree in business or supply chain management.
Executives estimate that some 68,000 employees may take part in the new benefit program, according to the article.
“Many of our associates don’t have the opportunity to complete a degree,” Drew Holler, Walmart’s U.S. vice president of people innovation, said in an interview with Bloomberg. “We felt strongly that this is something that would improve their lives and help us run a better business.”
According to the article, Walmart hopes the benefit will decrease turnover and be seen as a response to critics of the company’s labor practices.
The article said that workers can choose from three non-profit schools that offer flexible classes at their physical campuses or online.
Bellevue University, Brandman University, and the University of Florida will take part in the program, according to the article.
Both part- and full-time employees will be eligible for the program and contribute about $1 a day to the plan, according to the article.
Bloomberg reported that students’ benefit will pay for classes already taken should an employee leave the company, and not require any term of employment with Walmart after they receive a degree.
The company employs an estimated 2.3 million workers worldwide with 95 percent of those living within 10 miles of a store, according to the company’s website.
In fiscal year 2018, the company reported taking in more than $500 billion in revenue from its 11,700 stores in 28 countries.
OUR Walmart, an activist organization critical of the company’s labor practices, said the benefit was “a step forward,” but expressed concerns about the potential loss of a full-time schedule for students attending classes, according to the article.
“As soon as you tell Walmart you’re going to school, you lose access to a full-time schedule,” Andrea Dehlendorf, co-executive director of OUR Walmart, said in an interview after the company’s shareholder meeting Wednesday.
Coffee retailer Starbucks became the first United States company to offer free tuition for its employees and hopes to have 25,000 graduates through its program with Arizona State University by 2025, Bloomberg reported.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, some 42 million Americans owe about $4 billion in student loan debt as of 2017.