Walmart helping new Safford co-manager complete college degree

Safford Walmart co-manager, Abil Zafari

Abril Zafari has worked for Walmart since August of 2007. He started as a cashier, he moved up to department manager, followed by promotions to associate supervisor, assistant manager and recently, he was promoted to co-manager of the Safford Walmart. Zafari starts his new position on September 30, 2019. Zafari is one of more than 100 Walmart associates in Arizona who are participating in an education assistance program that Walmart offers its employees.

Walmart’s Live Better U (LBU) is an education program that offers more than a dozen degree programs from six non-profit universities, along with several high school completion and assistance programs to employees. Under the program, Walmart associates can earn a college degree for just $1 a day. The program was launched about a year ago and was recently listed in the top 5 on Fortune’s Change the World list.

Here’s how the program has positively impacted Arizona associates in the past year:

  • Walmart contributed $13,898 in Arizona
  • 104 Arizona associates are participating in the program
  • Arizona associates have earned a total value of $385,000 credits
  • 855 credits have been completed in Arizona

Nationally, Live Better U associates have completed more than 36,000 credits worth a total of $17 million since the program launched last September. Additionally, Walmart has paid a total of $450,000 in books and fees for associates.

Zafari says that when Walmart announced the program, he jumped on the opportunity because he always wanted to finish his education. He dropped out college because he didn’t know what degree to pursue while he was working at Walmart. Zafari found it difficult to attend classes on campus while working full time. Through Walmart’s LBU he’s now enrolled in online classes at Brandman University in a program called, My Path, working on a degree in business administration.

“It’s great for a working person because I just go at my pace,” Says Zafari. “You know, if I have more time I can do more schoolwork and if I don’t have time, as long as I do some activities or complete a quiz or assignments every two weeks, I’ll be good.”

Walmart spokesperson, Michelle Malashock, says that the program was announced at the company’s shareholder meeting in 2018 and students started enrolling last fall. The program initially started with just supply chain and business degrees. Malashock says they intentionally started small because they wanted to see how the program would scale with their 1.5 million U.S. employees.

Walmart associates have to work for the company for 90 days to be eligible for the program. Beyond that there are no other restrictions.

“We wanted it to be an avenue for anyone who wants to be a life-long learner to broaden their skills and invest in themselves,” Says Malashock.

The program is beginning to see its first graduates from Bachelor’s programs. Malashock says that there were some employees who already had some credits under their belts and they just needed to finish up their degree. She says it’s really inspiring to see them finish because some people have a lot of debt and no degree to show for it. This program is letting a lot of people finish their degree without incurring more debt.

Walmart is expecting to see better employee retention through the program. “For us, it’s really about helping our associates grow their careers,” Malashock says. “We have some great internal training but what we heard from our associates is that they wanted the opportunity to do even more. So we’re really hoping that we’re essentially giving our store associates a path to higher roles within the company or elsewhere in the workforce should they choose to leave Walmart. But we’re betting on the fact that they’ll want to stay with Walmart.”

When Walmart began considering the program they looked at their payroll data and found that they had more than 300 store managers that started with Walmart while still in high school and are now store managers, making an average of $170,000 per year. Malashock says that a college degree is not required for management positions in the company, but they do believe in life-long learning and that their company will be better if they foster a culture of learning.

The Live Better U program includes the $1 a day degree offering, free high school completion for associates and eligible family members, discounts on higher education programs and free foreign language learning. Currently, less than one year after launch, more than 7,500 Walmart associates from all 50 states have been accepted into at least one of the programs – ahead of the retailer’s projections.

In June, Walmart announced the expansion of the program which includes –

  • Expanded degrees: In addition to the business and supply chain degrees currently offered for $1 a day through Live Better U, associates now have access to 14 new technology degrees and certificates – like cyber security, computer science, computer and network security and computing technology.
  • Path for high school students: Along with all other eligible Walmart associates, high school students will have access to:
    • Up to 7 hours of free college credit through Live Better U’s College Start program (taken while in high school)
    • A debt-free college degree for $1 a day in technology, business or supply chain management at six nonprofit universities (upon graduation)
    • Free ACT and SAT prep
    • Jobs with scheduling options for flexibility or core hours
  • Graduation bonus program: The Live Better U Scholar Awards are graduation bonuses for Walmart U.S. store associates who have not previously completed college credits. The awards – valued at $1,500 each – will offset, and in many cases pay back, the associate’s $1 a day contribution to the program.

Yesterday, September 24, 2019 Walmart announced an expansion of the program which will include a health and wellness program. The new programs include:

  • Diploma programs for pharmacy technician positions and optician for a $1 a day through Penn Foster.
    • Walmart and Sam’s Club operate more than 5,000 pharmacies and more than 3,400 vision centers across the country, employing more than 30,000 pharmacy techs and more than 10,000 opticians.

Note: The program is available to associates who are not currently in those positions. Current pharmacy techs and opticians will continue to participate in existing training options.

  • Seven bachelor’s degrees in health science, health and wellness and healthcare management/administration for a $1 a day through Bellevue University, Purdue University Global, Southern New Hampshire University, and Wilmington University.