Employees must work for Amazon for three years before receiving tuition benefits.
Amazon will pay up to $2,000 for employees taking online or in-person college courses while working toward an associate’s degree or a technical certification, and educators expect other corporations to replicate the model if it proves successful.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, used the homepage of his company’s website to announce that Amazon warehouse employees would soon have 95 percent of their tuition prepaid if they work toward a two-year degree or certificate in engineering, IT, health care, transportation, and a range of other academic concentrations.
Educators and ed-tech officials said Amazon’s tuition offer differs from similar corporate programs in two ways: The company will only prepay tuition for students entering fields deemed in-demand and high-paying by the federal government—rather than academic areas related to the company’s mission—and the program will cover the vast majority of course and book costs, not just a fraction.
Bezos said in his announcement that online coursework would be covered in Amazon’s tuition program if the online school is accredited in an approved field of study. An employee must work for Amazon for three years to qualify for tuition help.
Amazon’s tuition math might be fuzzy, however. Annual tuition at a two-year public college is $2,690, according to College Board. Even if a student received the maximum $2,000 from Amazon, that would only account for about 74 percent of the student’s course costs.
Cali Morrison, manager of major grants for the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), said private-sector tuition assistance is needed more than ever as the price of credit hours, books, and supplies rise.
But before other U.S. companies replicate Amazon’s offer, it must prove effective, she said.
“If they are showing positive results like employee retention, I think you might see other corporations follow the same model,” Morrison said. “There just has to be a returned gain for the company besides just the warm fuzzy of helping support the development of their employees … although you may see other corporations that are looking for the good will factor.”
Amazon has more than 65,000 employees.
“We want to make it easier for employees to pursue their aspirations,” Bezos said in his announcement. “It can be difficult in this economy to have the flexibility and financial resources to teach yourself new skills. … Like many of our innovations at Amazon, the Career Choice Program is an experiment.”
Wal-Mart partnered with the online school American Public University (APU) last year, allowing employees to take APU courses at a 15 percent discount. This helped qualified employees save about $100 per undergraduate course., and $150 for every graduate course.
Unlike other corporate-sponsored tuition assistance initiatives, Amazon’s Bezos pledged to prepay school costs rather than reimburse money already spent on college classes.
Morrison that Amazon’s prepay model could strip some students of incentive to complete their coursework.
“The [reimbursement] portion can be a motivating factor for some students,” she said.