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Walmart announced yesterday that it will begin offering all of its 1.5 million US employees college tuition reimbursement and free books, an investment worth close to $1 billion.

According to the Washington Post, the move is "the latest effort by the country’s largest private employer to attract and retain workers in a tight labor market.

"The retail giant said Tuesday that it will invest nearly $1 billion over the next five years in career training and development programs for workers who want to pursue majors in high-demand fields, such as business administration, supply chain and cybersecurity. The company had previously required its Walmart and Sam’s Club workforce to pay $1 a day to participate in the program."

“We are creating a path of opportunity for our associates to grow their careers at Walmart,” Lorraine Stomski, the company’s senior vice president of learning and leadership.  “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.”

Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, points out to the Post that tuition reimbursement was "once a cornerstone of Corporate America" but has been "pared back in recent decades as companies looked for ways to cut costs."  He says that "as hiring becomes more competitive, large employers have begun offering such incentives in hopes of attracting motivated workers and getting them to stay longer."

There is a difference, though.  

“The companies that are doing this — Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart — are very concerned about their reputation in the labor market, and they have the resources to do something about it,” Cappelli says. “But these are not your father’s tuition reimbursement programs. They are far more targeted and self-interested than the traditional tuition reimbursement programs, where you can get them from any university and study whatever you want.”

KC's View:

First of all, kudos to Walmart.  Smart move, especially because this is the kind of thing that creates future leaders and innovators, which every company needs in order to continue to grow.

I especially love the cybersecurity reference.  I've been thinking that considering the level of cybersecurity threat that we seem to be facing in the US, the federal government ought to fund its own cybersecurity training efforts - it would train people and offer them a path to continuing education in the field, but then would require that graduates work for a federal cyber task force for a period of 2-3 years (paid, of course) as a way of paying for their education.