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Walmart Inc. is expanding its Live Better U education benefit for employees to include those still in high school, and adding 14 technology degrees and certificates at a total cost of $1 a day.

The Bentonville retailer announced the program's creation during last year's shareholders week events. Live Better U subsidizes the cost of tuition, books and fees, and includes academic counseling, for full-time, part-time and salaried employees of Walmart U.S. and Sam's Club who are seeking to complete an associate or bachelor's degree.

On Monday, the start of this year's shareholders week, Walmart said in a news release that it's enhancing the program "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."

"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," Greg Foran, president and chief executive officer of Walmart U.S., said in the release. "Access to higher education is one way to grow your career."

Julie Murphy, executive vice president of people for Walmart U.S., and Drew Holler, senior vice president of associate experience, explained the program enhancements Monday in a conference call with media.

Murphy said more than 7,500 of Walmart's million-plus U.S. employees have taken advantage of the education benefit so far. But with the newly eligible degree programs, and three more universities at which to pursue them, the company expects to see between 68,000 and 75,000 enroll over the next five years.

That number likely will include some of the 25,000 Walmart workers currently in high school, Murphy said. High school students face the same challenges as adults in pursuing higher education, she said.

Murphy cited recent research that shows U.S. student loan debt is now nearly $1.5 trillion. At the same time, she said, fewer teens are entering the workforce.

"Having a job, as well as training and development, helps build confidence, work ethic, independence and knowledge of the business world," all of which aid students in transitioning into adulthood and careers, Murphy said.

Walmart aims to provide high school students an "on-ramp to higher education," Murphy said, by offering access to jobs with scheduling options for flexibility or core hours; up to seven hours of free college credit through Live Better U's College Start program; free ACT and SAT preparation courses; and an opportunity to earn a debt-free college degree in the fields of technology, business or supply-chain management at one of the six universities participating in Live Better U.

While Live Better U initially only applied to an associate degree in business and a bachelor's degree in supply-chain management, available programs now include bachelor's degrees in business administration, information technology, cybersecurity, computer information systems and computing technology.

Eligible associate degree programs include an associate of arts degree in general education and associate of science degrees in information technology or multidisciplinary studies. Also, employees can pursue certificates in Web applications development, Java programming and digital evidence investigation.

The three original participating nonprofit universities -- the University of Florida, Brandman University in California and Bellevue University in Nebraska -- have been joined by Southern New Hampshire University, Indiana's Purdue University and Wilmington University in Delaware. The institutions were chosen for their experience in adult education and high graduation rates, Walmart's news release said.

Live Better U is offered in partnership with Guild Education, which provides academic counseling to help workers with application, enrollment and selecting an appropriate degree program.

Rachel Carlson, Guild Education's chief executive officer, said in the conference call that her company is "thrilled" with the response from Walmart employees, and lauded the retailer for "doing something creative" to make higher education more accessible to its workers.

"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," Carlson said.

Business on 06/04/2019

Print Headline: Walmart boosts education benefits

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