- Walmart announced Tuesday that it is adding more degrees, college partners and a path for high school students to its one-year-old program offering full- and part-time U.S. employees access to a college degree for $1 a day.
- Southern New Hampshire University, Purdue University Global and Wilmington University will join the program, which adds 14 associate degrees, bachelor's and certificate options in technical fields such as cybersecurity and computer science. Courses are offered through online degree marketplace Guild Education.
- The company hopes to continue to scale the program and is ahead of projections for participation in the first year, with 7,500 employees accepted and 5,500 of that group taking classes, Walmart spokesperson Michelle Malashock told Education Dive.
Walmart is also opening the program to the high school students it employs. They will be able to take seven credit hours during high school and can go on to earn a degree in technology, business or supply chain management through the program upon graduation.
"We want to focus on building that talent pipeline and building a bridge into the workforce," Malashock said, adding that most Walmart employees pursuing the company's education benefit begin their studies in Guild's College Start program, which offers credit in general education topics that can be transferred into a bachelor's degree.
"These courses are more like traditional college courses but are made available for the first time to high school students so that they can understand what does it mean to take a college course, what is the level of rigor, how does it work, etcetera," said Rachel Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild.
When the program's launched last year, Walmart officials said they expected 68,000 employees to enroll in its first five years.
The three new institutions join the University of Florida, Brandman University and Bellevue University in offering their programs to Walmart employees through Guild.
Walmart subsidizes the cost of tuition, books and fees beyond the $1 a day students pay. The company also influences the curriculum, working through Guild to incorporate case studies, projects and other instructional examples that reflect the company's business.
"These things are very, very much applicable to our associates' daily lives," Malashock said.
The new technology degrees join the founding programs in supply chain and business, she said. The expansion reflects technology's growing impact on retail.
"We've always said the program would follow what the associates wanted as well as what the business needed," she said. "Technology degrees were the No. 1 request of our associates."
The announcement comes a day before Walmart's annual shareholders meeting, where it will likely face pressure to increase wages and give employees a stronger voice in corporate decision-making, Reuters reported.
And it reflects a trend of major employers expanding their education benefits and subsidizing some or all of the cost.
In February, Papa John's announced it was partnering with Purdue Global to offer free associate, bachelor's or master's degrees for its corporate employees through the online college. Last June, financial services company Discover began offering employees tuition-free online degrees through the University of Florida Online, and Wilmington and Brandman universities.
Colleges are responding to growing competition for their online programs by attempting to lock down the market, giving them direct access to prospective students with lower costs to acquire them. Earlier this year, Arizona State University — which is known for such arrangements with companies like Starbucks, Uber and the NBA G League — launched InStride, a separate venture dedicated to growing that pipeline.
The nonprofit National University System is also adding a workforce development business unit with similar goals.
"There's a real fundamental and important shift here in companies taking folks who are currently in business roles and helping upskill them into technology jobs and other roles for the future," Carlson said. "Walmart is really leading the way on that."