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By Haley Glover
Lumina Foundation has studied employer-supported education programs for a long time. Through these studies, we’ve learned about program design—what makes a tuition-support program more attractive to adult learners? What are factors that seem to drive higher uptake? We’ve learned about the growing partnerships between employers and colleges and universities—including what institutional attributes and capacities seem to be most in demand by businesses, especially those investing directly in credentials for employees. And we’ve learned about return on investment—does investing in talent really pay off against the business bottom line? (The answer is a resounding yes).
One thing we’ve never been able to fully assess, though, is how these benefits are accessed and how they help diverse employee populations. Now, a new study we’ve done with Walmart, focusing on the retail giant’s Live Better U program, does just this. We analyzed the early results of the company’s 3-year-old tuition-support program and found it is working for thousands of employees who resumed their education. Importantly, these successes are equitable across all racial and ethnic groups.
In short, when companies invest in employees, workers gain skills and opportunities for career advancement. And employers build more qualified workforces while boosting their bottom lines.
Our study, conducted with analytic partner Accenture, assessed how employees benefit, starting on their first day at work, by gaining free access to more than 100 post-high school credential programs, high school completion opportunities, and language programs. (See our news release here.)
We measured how employees fared in three areas and found positive results in attrition (employees who leave the company), promotions (hourly associates who are promoted), and performance (how employees are assessed by supervisors). Not surprisingly, Live Better U participants exceeded non-participating associates on all measures. This finding was true across all racial and ethnic groups, which means the program is not only providing equitable access to higher education for associates from diverse backgrounds, but its positive impacts are accruing equitably.
We can’t overstate how important this leap forward in transparency is for those of us who help Americans learn and earn. With no national data tracking how employer-supported education programs help diverse employees, we’ve had to rely on employers’ willingness to share results–and until now, none have. Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer with 1.3 million workers, gave us the first glimpse into how programs that prioritize equity in design and implementation succeed.
Education benefits programs are becoming must-haves for major employers. We hope that many others follow Walmart’s example, sharing and shining a light on how many employees participate, the credentials they earned, and how they are faring at the company. We especially urge them to disaggregate their findings by race and ethnicity.
Live Better U has helped thousands of people to earn a credential without debt. Thousands more continue to study and train, earn credentials, and be promoted. We encourage Walmart to expand and enhance its program, improving the lives of even more workers through the power of education and leading the way for other companies to do the same.
Talent investments do pay off—for everyone.
The stunning success of the Walmart education program for employees | University Business | Sept. 20, 2021
(Editor’s note: As of June 2, Lumina became a shareholder of Guild. Lumina had no direct stake before the completion of this study’s analysis. However, Lumina may inadvertently have held indirect interests in the company through commingled, blind pool investments managed by third parties.)
Haley Glover is the strategy director for state action and equity at Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation that works for racial equity and justice while helping all Americans continue to learn and train after high school. She leads Lumina’s efforts to mobilize states to support student success and reduce racial disparities in credential attainment.
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