(BENTONVILLE, Ark.) — America’s largest private employer announced on Tuesday that it will pay for college tuition and books for associates, in full.

In a press release, Walmart says with these changes, “approximately 1.5 million part-time and full-time Walmart and Sam’s Club associates in the U.S. can earn college degrees or learn trade skills without the burden of education debt.”

The company said that associates who are part of the program will also no longer be required to contribute a $1 per day fee, which had been in place since the program had initially launched.

Lorraine Stomski, the company’s senior vice president of learning and leadership, said the move would create “a path of opportunity for our associates to grow their careers at Walmart, so they can continue to build better lives for themselves and their families.”

Our Live Better U program just got better. We’re proud to announce we’ll now pay 100% of college tuition and books for our associates seeking additional education, a planned investment of nearly $1 billion over the next five years. https://t.co/a4GTT9dTmu pic.twitter.com/wxx3xCmWg0

— Walmart Inc. (@WalmartInc) July 27, 2021

The company also noted it will add four academic partners, bringing the total number of institutions it works with to ten. The new partners include Johnson & Wales University, the University of Arizona, the University of Denver, and Pathstream.

The cost of education is still a leading barrier to earning a degree, with student loan debt in the U.S. topping $1.7 trillion. Walmart said its Live Better U program has had more than 52,000 associate participants since 2018, with 8,000 of them graduating.

Rachel Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild Education, hailed Walmart for “setting a new standard for what it looks like to prepare workers for the jobs of the future.”

Earlier this year, Walmart announced it would raise its starting pay to $11 per hour. That move, which affected approximately 425,000 employees, brought the company’s average pay to $15 per hour.

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