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Amazon offers free college tuition to its hourly workers

Amazon has joined the ranks of retailers that will offer hourly workers free college tuition. The retail giant had previously offered a 95% college tuition benefit to hourly workers with at least a year of service. The updated plan offers a 100% free college tuition, books and fees benefit to full-time and part-time hourly workers with at least 90 days of service.

Amazon is expanding the free college tuition benefit to include bachelor’s degree program, but is limited to specific fields of study. The company’s current Career Choice benefit funds technical and vocational education programs for its workers.

Amazon plans to roll out the expanded benefits in January. One difference between Amazon’s free college tuition program and those offered by competitors Target and Walmart is the number of participating schools. Amazon claims to have “hundreds” of education partners ready to deliver. Target and Walmart offer their education benefit through Guild Education, which has a limited number of participating schools. Amazon plans to release a complete list of Education Partners in January.

On its website, Amazon also offers the opportunity for schools to become Education Partners. The benefit will pay for up to $5,250 in tuition, fees and book costs per student per year. Both in-person and online courses are eligible for the tuition benefit.

Free college tuition benefits or reimbursements are not new, so why are these programs receiving so much attention? Prospective employees clearly value them. On an Amazon employees’ subreddit, multiple contributors indicated that the free college tuition benefit (currently at 95% after one year) is THE reason they chose to work at Amazon. From all accounts, Amazon hourly jobs are demanding and not particularly attractive. Holding on there for a year to get a generous tuition benefit can be a challenge.

How Amazon’s free college tuition benefit is different

In the cases of Walmart and Target, most educational institutions are locked out of the programs unless they’ve partnered with Guild Education, the plan administrator. The Amazon plan provides a broader range of schools the chance to enroll some of the company’s 750,000 eligible hourly employees.

For a community college that’s hurting for enrollment, becoming an Amazon Education Partner seems like a no-brainer. Especially when that community college offers a number of complete online degree programs that likely qualify for Amazon’s tuition benefit.

Make no mistake: large-scale, employer-paid college tuition benefits pick winners and losers. They select both the eligible majors and schools. For the most part, the programs benefit the employer first and foremost. Amazon’s programs are also self-serving, but not always in the most obvious way. While its program also picks eligible majors that could benefit Amazon, it also selects some degree programs to entice workers to leave the company. Programs that Amazon is most likely to select are high-demand, technical and vocational careers. For example, one of the most popular majors on Amazon’s list is nursing.

The Community College of Baltimore County is an Amazon Education Partner. Eligible CCBC study courses include degrees and certificates in:

  • Automotive Technology
  • HVAC Technology
  • Computer Science and Information Technology
  • Criminal Justice Studies / Legal Studies
  • Cybersecurity, Digital Forensics and Network Technology
  • Health Professions
  • Manufacturing

In Michigan, Amazon has distribution centers, sorting centers, fulfillment centers and warehouses in Livonia, Brownstown Township, Romulus, Shelby Township, Lansing and Caledonia.

If I were a community college administration that was serious about increasing enrollment, I might want to know how to become an Amazon Education Partner.

Photo Credit: Raymond Clarke Images, via Flickr