3 things to know about Amazon’s plan to cover 100% of employees’ tuition

BY Sydney LakeSeptember 10, 2021, 2:00 AM
An Amazon Fresh store in Washington, D.C., in August 2021.
Photo by Nicholas Kamm—AFP/Getty Images

The so-called Great Resignation has forced employers to brainstorm ways to increase worker retention. Increased minimum wages for hourly employees and tuition assistance have proved to be popular directives for top employers, including Amazon. On Tuesday, the second-largest U.S.-based retailer said it will cover college tuition for its hourly employees.

Amazon announced a $1.2 billion investment in its hourly employees, which includes funding college tuition for its 750,000-plus operations workers in the U.S. This new initiative, part of Amazon’s Career Choice program, officially kicks off in January 2022.

“Amazon is now the largest job creator in the U.S., and we know that investing in free skills training for our teams can have a huge impact for hundreds of thousands of families across the country,” Dave Clark, CEO of worldwide consumer at Amazon, said in a statement.

Amazon is one of many Fortune 500 companies now offering tuition assistance. Last month, Target launched a similar program; the company’s debt-free education assistance benefit fully covers higher education and certificate programs, as well as books and fees. Amazon’s massive investment dwarfs Target’s $200 million program, however. 

So what makes Amazon’s upskilling initiative different from others? Here’s what you need to know about the retail giant’s plan to cover 100% of its employees’ tuition.

What Amazon’s program covers

Amazon will fund full college tuition for bachelor’s degrees; programs for associate’s degrees, high school diplomas, and GEDs; and English as a Second Language (ESL) proficiency certifications. Funds can be used toward tuition, books, and fees.

The company has “hundreds of education partners” across the U.S., schools at which employees can have their education fully covered—so the new program doesn’t open the doors to all schools. But Amazon says it has a “rigorous selection process” for its education partners; the approved list is available only to employees through the company’s Career Choice portal.

As part of its Upskilling 2025 pledge, Amazon is also launching three of its own educational programs to upskill employees in data center maintenance and technology, information technology, user experience, and research design.

With not enough workers to fill every open job in the U.S.—not just at Amazon—the program “helps to ensure that the business community has access to a workforce pipeline that meets their needs today and in the future,” Cheryl Oldham, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation senior vice president, said in a statement in reaction to Amazon’s announcement.

Amazon isn’t launching a tuition reimbursement program

Amazon will foot the bill for its employees’ tuition and fees in advance, as opposed to more traditional reimbursement programs in which companies pay after an employee has completed a course or program. Many tuition programs also require that an employee be with the company for an extended period of time before taking advantage of its education benefits. 

That’s not the case at Amazon.

Under the Career Choice program, any hourly employee who has been with the company for just 90 days has access to the funding. The Career Choice program previously required that employees be with the company for a year before having access to educational benefits. The change means the 400,000 hourly employees that Amazon hired during pandemic surges can start to take advantage of this benefit. 

When and how workers can access benefits

Starting in January 2022, hourly Amazon workers can apply for funding through the company’s Career Choice portal. Employees who have already used benefits previously provided through Career Choice can also enroll again starting next year.

Amazon workers can continue to use their Career Choice benefits during their entire tenure with the company. Educational partners offer a variety of class formats, including online, in-person, and at Amazon facilities. Today, Amazon has more than 110 on-site classrooms for employees across 37 states.

See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.