Will College Prep Become the Next Hot Employee Benefit?

There’s no doubt about it–education-related benefits are hot. Companies such as Starbucks, UPS and supermarket chain Publix have invested in programs that make it easy for their employees to take college classes at little cost. Other companies, mindful of the crushing debt many recent college grads are facing, are offering tuition-relief benefits. Chegg, an education technology company, just announced a new benefit for its entry- and manager-level employees of up to $5,000 a year for student-loan reimbursement.

Last year, Walmart joined the ranks of employers that offer low-cost college classes for its employees. Now, amid one of the tightest labor markets in recent history, the retail giant is broadening its Live Better U program to include high-school-age employees. Walmart has announced it will pay for SAT and ACT prep courses for high school students who work at its stores (the benefit is available to other employees as well). The company is also introducing scheduling options to make it easier for high school students to balance work and classes and is offering up to seven hours of free college credit.

Walmart is competing hard with other employers for teenage workers. Approximately 25,000 of Walmart’s 1.5 million U.S. employees are in high school, according to the company. Julie Murphy, executive vice president of its U.S. people division, said its share of high school workers is smaller than those of other retailers because it’s often hard to work around students’ busy schedules, reports CNBC.

“We see this as a pipeline we can leverage that we currently aren’t leveraging today,” Murphy told CNBC.

The retailer’s Live Better U program is a partnership with Guild Education, in which full- and part-time Walmart employees can take subsidized classes toward degrees in business or supply-chain management, online or on-site, at one of three colleges: the University of Florida; Brandman University in Irvine, Calif.; and Bellevue University in Bellevue, Neb. Employees are eligible for the program after completing 90 days of employment with Walmart and are required to contribute just $1 per day toward the classes–Walmart takes care of the rest, including books and fees.

Perks like these are what drew Ethan Roberts, a rising high school senior, to apply for a job at a Walmart in Fayette County, Ga., reports NPR.

“I heard that they had a lot of benefits [for] going into college, and they had a lot of programs that would benefit me in the future,” Roberts told NPR. “I had already taken the ACT and SAT, but I’m going to take them again so I can get better scores. So I’ll definitely utilize that program.”

Andrew R. McIlvaine
Andrew R. McIlvaine is former senior editor with Human Resource Executive®.