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How You Could Go to College for Free on a Big Company's Dime

College is expensive, there's no doubt. But with some smart planning and research, you could work for an employer that'll pay for it for you. Here’s how!

We all know college is expensive. Affording the cost of attendance is a major concern for many families, especially with a traditional four-year degree exceeding $300,000 at some schools. State and community colleges provide students with better cost options, but the price tag can still be significant. Even with families acutely aware that the cost of college can be prohibitive, they’re still willing to pay the ever-escalating costs—taking out loans and putting future plans on hold to make earning a degree at a student’s dream school a reality.

Why is the traditional college experience typically the only choice for students even though families know the cost will exceed their budgets? There are numerous reasons, but going to college has become a rite of passage—the young person’s transition to adulthood and life on their own. It’s also a period of exploration as students begin to identify possible career paths. Tuition reimbursement programs have been around for decades to help combat expensive college costs. But what do they look like these days, and how can they help you as tuition prices continue to climb?

Modernizing tuition reimbursement programs

Many companies offer this valuable benefit to help current employees offset tuition costs to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree or to take certain continuing education classes. Each company has its own eligibility and program requirements, but in short, an employee pays their tuition directly to their school and the employer reimburses a portion of the educational costs. In most cases, students will still have out-of-pocket expenses that need to be covered by savings, scholarships, or loans. Many employees have substantial student loan debt, so companies are taking a leadership role in providing enhanced educational benefits. These benefits may also include pre-paid tuition and books so that employees don’t have to request reimbursement.

Related: 4 Tips to Make Your Dream School a Financial Reality

Beyond tuition reimbursement: Spotlight on 3 impressive company programs

Graduating high school and heading straight to college after a summer break continues to be the norm. However, there are an increasing number of options for high school graduates to earn a degree and a paycheck—all without completely depleting their family’s savings. In fact, some new programs have recently been offered by some of the largest companies in the United States that allow an employee to work and earn an undergraduate degree with 100% of the costs covered by the employer! The catch? There is none, as long as you’re okay with working at a company while taking classes at an online accredited university instead of attending on campus right after high school. Total amount of student loan debt? Zero!

Walmart’s Live Better U

Walmart’s tagline is “Save Money. Live Better.” This applies not only to its customer base but to its associates as well. Recently, the company announced it will pay 100% of the price of college tuition and books for its employees. The company expects to invest almost $1 billion in career-driven training and development over the next few years through its Live Better U education program. Workers can choose from programs offered at Purdue University Global, the University of Arizona, and Southern New Hampshire University, among other academic partners.

A great element to this program is that all eligible employees—both hourly part-time and full-time associates—can take advantage of the educational benefits starting their first day of employment. In addition, Walmart also offers in-demand college degree offerings that directly tie to the company’s growth areas. There are degree and certificate options in high-paying fields like Cybersecurity, Supply Chain Management, and Business Administration. The company is filling its future business needs and talent pipeline by investing in its own associates.

Connect me with SNHU!

Citi’s expanding reimbursement program

Other corporations are also making positive changes to help employees advance their careers through re-envisioned education programs. Citi, one of the world’s largest banks, is building upon its existing tuition reimbursement program by adding additional financial and educational support to its US employee base. Citi noted in the announcement that it’s “proactively removing barriers to education access to ease the financial burden by offering no-cost, fully funded degrees from five partner schools… and tuition assistance for bachelor’s, graduate, and certificate programs to employees.” Citi’s partner schools include Colorado State University Global, University of Maryland Global Campus, Western Governors University, and Walden University, Alamo. Eligible workers include front-line consumer banking employees.

Connect me with Colorado State!

Chipotle’s business and hospitality partnerships

Chipotle Mexican Grill covers 100% of employee tuition costs for 75 business and technology degrees—including debt-free degrees in Hospitality, Agriculture, and Supply Chain—for hourly team members and salaried administrative staff. Available after four months of employment, degrees can be pursued at a number of schools, including Oregon State University and the University of Denver. Chipotle is also collaborating with Johnson & Wales University to bring Culinary Arts degrees online, including a BS in Food Industry Compliance Management. An associate degree will also soon be offered to provide students with experiential education that builds culinary skills.

Connect me with U of Denver!

Lowe’s, Starbucks, and Target are additional companies that are investing in their employees by making higher education more affordable or even free. Students who are currently planning their college paths should include these corporate programs in their research if they’re willing to give up the traditional college path for a smaller financial burden. Working and earning a degree online may not be the same experience as being on a campus, but with free education on the table, it just might be better.

If these academic opportunities sound like something you’re interested in, it’s never too early to start career preparation to help plan for the future!

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