Two of the largest retailers announce programs to help employees pay for education

Walmart and Target strengthen customer loyalty, store associate loyalty through bold plans.
Zachary Russell
Associate Editor
Zachary Russell profile picture
a group of people standing in a room

Two of America’s largest retailers have announced bold plans to help their employees pay for higher education. Walmart, the country’s largest private employer, along with Target both unveiled plans to cover the education costs of their employees to varying degrees.

The support from Target falls under its Target Forward sustainability and diversity initiative, which includes a plan to accelerate opportunity and equity, to go along with measures around designing sustainable owned brands.

In a July 27 statement, Walmart, following record online growth, announced it would pay 100% of college tuition and book costs for full-time and part-time associates at Walmart and Sam’s Club locations. Beginning August 16, a $1 a day fee will be taken from associates in order to fund the Live Better U education program.

The LBU program was launched in 2018, has gradually expanded since, and will now pay for 100% of book and tuition cost for employees in school. Walmart says that the program has 28,000 students currently enrolled, while over 8,000 have graduated already. The expanded plan will invest nearly $1 billion over the next five years.

“We are creating a path of opportunity for our associates to grow their careers at Walmart, so they can continue to build better lives for themselves and their families,” said Lorraine Stomski, senior vice president of learning and leadership at Walmart. “This investment is another way we can support our associates to pursue their passion and purpose while removing the barriers that too often keep adult working learners from obtaining degrees.” 

LBU will also add in-demand college degree and certificate options in business administration, supply chain, and cybersecurity. Four new academic partners (Johnson & Wales University, the University of Arizona, the University of Denver, and Pathstream) will join the program’s existing partners.

A survey from Valassis found shoppers are more likely to support a brand that supports ethical business practices and stands for something, and programs like this can garner additional loyalty from shoppers.

For Target, it announced that all of its 340,000 employees will be eligible for debt-free undergraduate degrees, certificates, certifications, and free textbooks. The announcement comes as the Minnesota-based retailer posted record growth of its store brands in the second quarter of 2021.

The program will begin in the fall, and include all employees, taking effect on their first day of work at Target through the Guild Education platform. The plan will invest $200 million over four years.

“A significant number of our hourly team members build their careers at Target, and we know many would like to pursue additional education opportunities,” said Melissa Kremer, chief human resources officer at Target. “We don’t want the cost to be a barrier for anyone, and that’s where Target can step in to make education accessible for everyone. Our team members are the heart of Target’s strategy and success, and we have a long history of investing in industry-leading pay, extensive benefits and career opportunities to help our team thrive and have rewarding careers at Target.”

Target says its team members can attend classes at over 40 schools, colleges, and universities, with over 250 business-aligned programs to choose from. Team members who opt-in to the program will have no out-of-pocket costs. For employees enrolled outside the eligible schools, Target will provide payments of up to $5,250 for non-master's degrees and up to $10,000 for master’s degrees each year to reduce the burden of costly tuition payments. Target also says that textbook and course materials will be covered at no cost.