May 26, 2023 - Business

Walmart adds University of Arkansas to its free education lineup

Two Walmart employees talk near full checkout counters at a store in Miami.

Walmart employees help customers check out in Miami. Photo: Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Walmart announced Thursday that the University of Arkansas is among 26 colleges where employees can earn a degree at no cost. The company's Live Better U (LBU) program covers tuition and books for 1.6 million U.S. employees.

  • About 100,000 Canadian employees also are eligible.

Why it matters: Walmart hopes access to education will encourage employees to stick around and grow their careers with the company without the burden of debt.

Context: The labor market for the retail sector is tight, with nearly 600,000 job openings projected annually on average through 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • "Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire," the bureau notes.

Between the lines: Though they're not obligated to stay around, hourly employees enrolled in LBU leave the company at a rate four times less than nonparticipants, a Lumina study found.

  • LBU participants are promoted at twice the rate of their colleagues, Lorraine Stomski, Walmart's senior vice president of employee learning and leadership, told Axios.

Details: Three bachelor’s degrees will be offered through the Sam M. Walton College of Business at UA: Supply chain management, marketing and general business, Cheryl Murphy, vice provost of distance learning, told Axios.

  • Nondegree programs in data science and purchasing also will be offered through the U of A.
  • All employees of Walmart's stores, fulfillment centers and Sam's Clubs can participate.

Flashback: LBU launched in 2018 with a $1-per-day fee for participants. Research showed the cost was still a barrier, so Walmart dropped the fee entirely in 2021, covering the cost of tuition and books for all full- and part-time U.S. employees beginning their first day of employment.

  • Participation shot up more than 100% during 2022, the company says.

By the numbers: More than 104,000 Walmart employees have participated in the program during the past five years, of which about 19,000 have graduated — roughly 18%.

  • Zoom in: Nearly 5,100 Arkansans have signed up for LBU since inception, the fourth highest rate behind Texas (12,406), Florida (9,779) and Georgia (5,544).

What they're saying: "What Live Better U is trying to achieve and what we work to achieve at the University of Arkansas is in perfect alignment," Murphy said.

  • "When you provide access to education, you're providing opportunities."

What's next: Walmart employees can begin the registration process at the University of Arkansas on June 20.

avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios NW Arkansas.

More NW Arkansas stories