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Many companies offer tuition assistance so workers can go to college

As growing numbers of Americans feel left out of a college education, tuition assistance may be the most valuable incentive companies use to attract and keep workers.

Over the past few years, more and more companies have added or expanded the benefit offerings of free college programs. Not only does free or discounted higher education improve recruitment and retention, it also reduces student debt loads while improving long-term employee well-being, experts say.

Major brands including walmart, McDonald’s, T-Mobile, Amazon, Home deposit, Target, UPS, fedex, Chipotle And Starbucks have programs that help cover the cost of returning to school. Waste Management will not only pay for employees’ college degrees and professional certificates, but will also provide this same benefit to their spouses and children.

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Of course, employers paying for their employees to graduate are nothing new. For decades, corporations have taken over college education and white-collar MBAs.

However, many companies are now extending this benefit to front-line workers, such as drivers, cashiers and hourly workers, while heavily promoting the offer more than before.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, these types of benefits are playing an important role in competing for workers and more and more companies are now offering opportunities to develop new skills, according to the 2022 survey on Society for Human Resource Management employee benefits.

At this point, 48% of employers said they offered undergraduate or graduate tuition assistance as a benefit, according to the SHRM survey. A separate Willis Towers Watson survey in 2021 found that 80% of large employers offer tuition reimbursement.

Programs can open ‘career paths to higher paying roles’

“I thought about college, but I didn’t think I had the resources to work full time and go to school,” said Tara Sims, 39, an associate at a Walmart store in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Walmart is pairing Tara Sims with her daughter Brylie.

Source: Tara Sims

Sims is now almost a year after earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration through Walmart’s Live Better U education program. Sims, who will be the first person in her family to graduate from college, said she was motivated by her 12-year-old daughter, Brylie.

“I actually made the honor roll last fall and sharing that email with her was really exciting for me,” Sims said.

Five years ago, Walmart unveiled an ambitious education relief plan for its workers. Then, in 2021, the nation’s largest employer said it would make the program completely free for all full-time and part-time associates, covering 100% tuition and books.

Walmart unveiled a new benefit for employees - tuition

“Our higher education system is struggling right now,” said Lorraine Stomski, senior vice president of learning and leadership at Walmart. “We continue to double down on programs that will unlock those career paths to higher paying roles.”

Over the past five years, the company has helped its employees save nearly half a billion dollars on what would otherwise have been student debt, she estimated.

About 104,000 associates of Walmart and its subsidiary Sam’s Club have so far participated in the Live Better U education program, the company announced Thursday.

These employees are twice as likely to be promoted and four times less likely to leave the company, according to Rachel Romer, CEO of Guild Education, Walmart partner for the program.

“Our goal is to create career mobility,” Romer said, and “Walmart has also inspired other companies to get in on the game.”

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