Walmart expands debt-free college benefits to high school students

Walmart announced Tuesday it was extending its debt-free college benefits to high school students, including free ACT and SAT prep courses and college credit, to attract and keep young talent.

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The retail giant said the new benefits are part of its “Live Better U” initiative which launched last year to give employees a chance to earn a degree in business or supply chain management by paying a tuition fee of $1 a day. Walmart will then cover the rest of the cost.

“To help prepare its workforce for tomorrow, the retailer is expanding its Live Better U education benefit to include new technology degrees and certificates for $1 a day and offering high school students a bridge into the workforce, including access to all its learning programs,” Walmart said in a news release Tuesday.

Along with free college exam prep courses, Walmart employees who are in high school will now be able to earn free college credit and a debt-free college degree in technology, business or supply chain management at six nonprofit universities — University of Florida, Brandman University, Bellevue University, Southern New Hampshire University, Purdue University Global and Wilmington University.

The retailer will also provide flexible work hours for high schoolers to help them achieve their educational goals. Walmart estimates about 25,000 people under the age of 18 work at its stores, a fraction of its 1.3 million person U.S. workforce.

Walmart also added 14 technology degrees and certificates, including cybersecurity and computer science, to its $1 a day degree program.

About 7,500 adult workers are already enrolled in the program. Walmart expects 68,000 of its employees to be enrolled in the next several years.

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The moves come as Walmart and others seek to recruit and retain higher quality entry-level employees in a tight U.S. labor market while looking for untapped labor pools. The program also highlights the growing student loan debt problem in the U.S., which currently stands around an estimated $1.5 trillion.

"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. Access to higher education is one way to grow your career," Walmart CEO Greg Foran said in an online statement.

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Walmart’s announcement comes a day after its rival Amazon added free one-day delivery to more than 10 million items for Amazon Prime members in the U.S.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.