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Tuition Assistance Gains Traction with Frontline Workers at Walmart

According to the OECD literacy assessment, there are about 24 million low-wage workers in the U.S. and 14.5 million workers (with some overlap with the low-wage workers) who have low basic skills. These employees earn less than $30,000 a year and are often employed in the retail, hospitality, grocery and manufacturing sectors.

Many employers, like Walmart, offer tuition assistance to help upskill frontline workers to enable them to move into higher skill and higher paying positions, while also reducing turnover and increasing engagement. Research by i4cp and The Aspen Institute found that as many as 82% of employers offer tuition assistance to frontline workers. Over 40% do so within six months of full employment and 54% do so after six to 12 months of full employment.

In order to communicate, customize and make the process easier for employees, Walmart established an external partnership with American Public University (APU). According to Brian Poland, Director, Lifelong Learning & Talent Development at Walmart “Our goal in this partnership was to bring down the time and cost of a degree.”

APU is one of the largest providers of higher education offering more than 190 academic programs with more than 100,000 students enrolled worldwide. Courses are online, start monthly, and are offered in eight or 16-week sessions. APU is also cost effective. It is roughly 20% less for undergraduate and 33% less for graduate students than the average in-state rates at a public university.

"Walmart provides a 15% tuition grant, which is available to all associates and eligible family members," says Poland. "Degree-seeking associates and eligible family members are provided required text books and materials at no charge with the company-provided book grant. Walmart leads the retail industry in offering free and low cost college credit for workplace learning. This reduces both the time and cost of earning a degree. For example, qualified store managers earn 33 hours of college credit for demonstrating the competencies they have gained. There are hundreds of different credit packages available for associates to help build careers."

In talking with Poland, he reminded me that external education opportunities aren't all about higher education. “While there has been a lot of media attention on college credits and degrees, it’s important to note that Walmart also fully funds an online high school or GED for all associates. This program helps make the pathway to college clearer for our people.”

The benefit of investing in tuition assistance programs like Walmart allows companies to contribute in meaningful ways to the upskilling of frontline workers. It also helps employees to increase their potential to expand their careers and advance into middle-skill level roles.

For more about how Walmart approaches the development of frontline workers and tuition assistance, download this complimentary research report, or watch this on-demand webinar.

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Kevin Martin
Kevin Martin is the chief research officer at i4cp. A highly sought-after international keynote speaker on all aspects of human resources and talent management, Kevin has been recognized as a “Top 100 HR Influencer” by HR Examiner, is a renowned keynote speaker, and has been published in Forbes, Wall Street Journal, and HBR.