Walmart is adding seven health-related bachelor's degrees and two career diplomas to its college perks program, where employees pay just $1 a day for an education, the company announced Tuesday.
The nation's largest private employer said its 1.5 million U.S. workers will now be able to pursue career diplomas for pharmacy technicians and opticians, through the Penn Foster online college. Also, seven bachelor's degrees in health science, health and wellness and health-care management/administration will be offered through Purdue University Global, Southern New Hampshire University, Bellevue University and Wilmington University.
Walmart said it hopes this initiative will help fill a growing need for health-related jobs within its own business. It currently has 5,000 retail pharmacies, 3,000 vision centers and 400 hearing centers across the U.S., including through Sam's Club. And last month, it opened a first-of-its-kind Walmart Health clinic, in Dallas, Georgia.
Walmart is clearly looking to be a bigger name when it comes to health.
"These offerings will arm associates to fill critical health-care roles across Walmart and Sam's Club," Walmart chief medical officer, Dr. Thomas Van Gilder, said on a call with media. "It's filling a critical need in a growing field."
In May 2018, Walmart began subsidizing the cost of higher education for its employees who have yet to earn a college degree. At the time, it offered only associate's or bachelor's degrees in business or supply chain management.
The program works by Walmart employees contributing $1 per day, for 365 days every year, toward their education, so long as they're enrolled and keeping up with their course work. Walmart covers the rest of the tab.
Last June, Walmart expanded the program to high school students, offering them early college credits and ACT and SAT prep courses. It also added three new schools to the program and 14 technology degrees and certificates for employees to choose from, including computer science, cybersecurity, computing technology and a certificate for Java programming.
Walmart this week said 13,000 people have enrolled in the program, and it expects at least 50,000 will enroll over the next five years. That's slightly different from June, when Walmart was saying it expected as many as 68,000 employees to sign up over the course of four to five years. At that time, about 7,500 had enrolled.
But over 100,000 people have at least "expressed interest," said Drew Holler, senior vice president of associate experience. "That number grows every single week."
Holler added the program has been a way for Walmart to attract workers to its business in a tight labor market. "We do think this is a way to attract talent," he told members of the media. "If this [announcement] is anything like we've done in the past, we expect to see an increase in applications."
Walmart shares are up more than 25% this year.