Latinas Get Access to Tuition-Free College through Walmart’s Innovative ProgramBy Christine Bolaños
By Christine Bolaños
The Pew Research Center reports that seven out of every 10 Latino high school graduates are enrolling in college. It’s a record high that outpaces the college enrollment rate of white and Black students. The dropout rate for Latino college students has also drastically dropped from 28 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2011.
Even though these numbers are promising, Latino students, including Latinas, are more likely to drop out of college because of financial or academic barriers. In addition, the pandemic has also forced students to drop out of school and take laborious jobs to help keep their families financially afloat.
But a globally recognized superstore came up with a transformative way to help offset the cost of higher education and help its employees become more competitive in the labor market, thereby filling the gap for so many Latinos and other students who have been forced to drop out or have never had the opportunity to pursue college.
Walmart announced in August it will pay 100 percent of college tuition and books for its associates through the company’s Live Better U (LBU) education program. A $1 a day fee for associates (frontline employees) participating in the program was removed on August 16, making all education programs offered through LBU available to them at no cost.
“The cool thing about our program is it’s available to you on day one of employment. You get your vest, your badge and you get the opportunity to enroll in college,” says Beth Williams-Moore, Director of Walmart’s Live Better U program. “We’re able to provide college degrees, certificates, high school completion, English as a Second Language/Language programs and a plethora of opportunities to grow.”
About 1.5 million part-time and full-time U.S. Walmart and Sam’s Club associates are eligible to earn college degrees or learn new trade skills without taking on student loan debt. As the largest private employer in the U.S., Walmart is uniquely equipped to effect change and is doing so by investing $1 billion over the next five years in career-driven training and development.
Many of the program participants are non-traditional students. For example, they may be caregivers, be adults, or lack a support system for educational success. This newly acquired education and training helps them move up the career ladder at Walmart.
Walmart continues to prioritize the advancement of people of color, Latinos included. In a recent Lumina study of Walmart’s LBU program, 18 percent of hourly associates at Walmart are of Latino origin. Comparatively, 16 percent of LBU participants identify as Latino.
Since its launch in 2018, more than 52,000 associates have participated in the program, and 8,000 have graduated. Williams-Moore says nearly 28,000 associates have been active in an LBU program this summer alone. Most participants are women and nearly half are people of color.
Walmart currently partners with 12 academic providers to offer over 50-plus online programs, including Bellevue University, Brandman University, Johnson & Wales University, Pathstream, Penn Foster, Purdue University Global, Southern New Hampshire University, University of Arizona, University of Denver, University of Florida, Wilmington University and Voxy EnGen.
Programs are wide-ranging and include SAT/ACT prep, several certificates such as Human Resources Management, high school completion, ESL/Language programs, college preparatory classes, career diplomas in various skills and trade fields like plumbing and construction; a number of associates degrees such as in business administration and cybersecurity; and, bachelor degrees ranging from electrical and computer engineering to healthcare administration.
“I’m really proud of Walmart where we’re committed to creating a culture where associates feel not only included but engaged,” Williams-Moore shares. “We absolutely value a diverse pool of leaders. We also have a number of associate resource groups like the Latinx Network Associate Resource Group that creates access to development opportunities for its members. Walmart taps into those groups to help feed our talent pipeline.”
She is particularly proud that Walmart offers LBU educational program participants Guild Education Coaches from the first day they enroll until they graduate. Coaches help with applications, enrollment, and the general logistics of acquiring a degree.
“This type of academic counseling enables our associates to complete their degrees,” Williams-Moore says. According to Williams-Moore, Walmart partners with Latino-serving academic institutions – including most recently the University of Arizona – and historically Black colleges and universities to build relationships with the community and create access to opportunities. Walmart is also looking to bring on other partners as well.
“Over the coming years, we will continue to have Latino associates represented and encourage them to attend universities where they feel included, comfortable and excited to attend,” she adds.
LBU is part of Walmart’s long-term employee retention and promotion efforts to help its associates grow within the company. Participants are promoted at a 2x higher rate than non-participants and are retained at 20 percent higher rate than non-participants.