Walmart has a new employer brand -- and an offer to pay for college

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Credit: Walmart

Walmart is launching its first employee branding campaign Wednesday and has a message that should grab attention: It will pay for any of its 1.4 million U.S. workers to attend college if they put up $1 a day from their own pockets.

Walmart will pay for associate or bachelor degrees in business or supply-chain management from three universities either on campus or online: University of Florida, Brandman University (in Irvine, California) and Bellevue University (in Bellevue, Nebraska).

As for the employee branding, it comes from Barrett SF, a San Francisco shop that previously worked for Walmart's Jet.com. Its tagline: "This is that place," which comes with a rainbow version of Walmart's longstanding starburst logo. Initial messages on materials to be handed out at the retailer's Shareholders Week in Northwest Arkansas this week cover diversity, technology and the opportunities afforded by working at the giant retailer. The branding campaign targets all 2.4 million of Walmart's global employees, or "associates" in Walmart-speak, and will be used externally in recruiting.

The new education benefit covers only 1.4 million Walmart workers in the U.S., who will be eligible once they've been on the job 90 days. Depending on the degree or school chosen, the net value of the tuition, books and fees benefits could range from $12,000 to more than $30,000 over two to five years, based on current tuition and fees quoted by the universities for in-state students.

"We're making college affordable," says Julie Murphy, executive vp of people for Walmart U.S. "Students will not need to pay any upfront costs, eliminating the need for any student-loan debt and addressing one of the biggest hurdles that keep people from returning to college."

Walmart expects 68,000 associates to take up the offer based on surveys it has conducted, she says. The program aims to improve employee retention, morale, engagement and customer service, says Drew Holler, vp of people innovation for Walmart U.S.

It resembles a program Starbucks launched in 2015 to pay tuition of employees for online study at Arizona State University. But Walmart has more than six times as many employees as Starbucks.

Walmart was set to announce its new education benefit and showcase its new associate brand Wednesday in meetings near its Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters, during its Shareholders Week.

Outside Shareholder Week enthusiasm, Walmart has some work to do on its employer brand. It's been the target for years of criticism about pay, benefits and other employment policies, much of it led by groups funded by labor unions that have tried unsuccessfully to organize the retailer.

Among the 20 largest supermarket, department store, home improvements and online retailers on Glassdoor.com, Walmart's employer rating of 3.2 comes in 11th—at the median between the high of Texas-based H-E.B (4.1) and low of Sears (2.7) on a five-point scale.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said Walmart will pay for college degrees for as long as five years. There is no time limit as long as the employee remains enrolled.

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