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Target, Walmart Cover Tuition and Books for Employees

Last week, Walmart announced that it would pay 100% of its workers’ college tuition and books costs. Today, Target did the same. To qualify full-time and part-time workers must pursue a “qualified” major at one of 40 institutions. Employees who want to seek an advanced degree can receive up to $10,000 each year to offset the cost.

A “qualified” major is one of 250 degree programs that align with Target’s business. Majors like computer science and business qualify. Employees who pursue a non-qualifying major can receive up to $5,250 per year. (That’s $175 per credit hour, if you’re counting.)

Target and Walmart, along with dozens of other retailers, offer this benefit through an education benefits management company called Guild Education. Among Guild Education’s 40 participating institutions are the University of Arizona, Oregon State University, the University of Denver, Southern New Hampshire University, Purdue University Global, eCornell, the University of Florida Online, Bellevue University, Wilmington University, Johnson & Wales University, and Penn Foster.

Previously, Walmart had offered this benefit to its employees at a cost of $1 per day ($365/year.) Last week, Walmart made the program cost-free. Walmart and Target aren’t the only employers who have signed on to pay their workers’ college tuition and books costs as a benefit. Chipotle, Discover, Disney, Five Guys, Lowes, Taco Bell, and Waste Management also offer this benefit.

Free tuition and books seems like a good deal, but…

Guild Education is somewhat more than a brokering service, connecting employers, employees and education institutions. Employers want educational benefits for their employees (as long as it returns something to them), and employees want an ordinarily expensive benefit. Signing on means student-employees could spend years at a participating company as they try to complete a degree. Guild Education provides coaches to each participating student to offer support while they’re enrolled. They also help students integrate their academic and work experiences.

Which means those students don’t enroll in their local community college. How many students are we talking about? In 2020, Target employed about 368,000 people. Combined, the participating companies employ nearly 3 million people – most of whom are eligible for these benefits.

This free tuition and books benefit – which employers use as a retention strategy – will appeal primarily to workers who may otherwise enroll in a community college with the intention of finding a higher-paying job elsewhere. Guild Education doesn’t seem to measure its success in terms of employees who graduate with a degree. For the most part, it measures success by how long enrolled employees remain at the company. In the meantime, the promise of free tuition and books is draining students out of local educational institutions like WCC.

So the question is this: WCC has an extraordinarily large, well-paid executive staff. What strategies have they developed to counter this trend?

Photo Credit: Mike Mozart , via Flickr