Discover Is Offering Employees a Free College Education. Here Are the Rules

Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Walmart should be pretty flattered right now.

Why? Because Discover, the financial-services company, just announced a similar plan to the retail giant’s for sending employees to college (minus the whole $1 a day thing) — right down to two of the schools involved.

The gist of the new benefit is pretty much the same: Discover will now give all U.S.-based employees the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree for free.

The Discover College Commitment  

The new benefit, called the Discover College Commitment, will be available to all U.S.-based full-time or flex part-time employees who want to receive their first bachelor’s degree. According to the company, nearly 90% of its employees who do not have a postsecondary degree work in the customer care centers, which are all U.S.-based.

After any grants have been applied, the company will cover any remaining tuition, fees, books and supplies. Tuition will be paid directly to the employee’s school of choice, while spending on qualified books, supplies and fees will be reimbursed.

Eligible employees can enroll in online degree programs at three universities — Wilmington University in Delaware, Brandman University in California or the University of Florida — and can choose from one of a few select degree paths.

Through Brandman University and the University of Florida, employees can earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration, while employees who choose Wilmington University can earn a bachelor’s degree in organizational management, business management, software design and development or computer and network security.

The new program is in partnership with Guild Education, which will provide academic counseling to employees to help them find the right program for their educational and personal development.

There is no tenure period involved (meaning qualifying employees can take advantage of the Discover College Commitment as soon as they choose). However, employees must be in active status and in good standing within the company. They also must meet certain expectations within their role and maintain at least a 2.0 grade-point average or higher.

Employees should note one important thing, though: If a Discover employee is terminated, all tuition, fees and reimbursements that the employee received within the 24 months prior must be paid back.

Education Assistance Through Discover

Before offering fully paid bachelor’s degree programs through the College Commitment program, Discover already had a few education assistance opportunities in place for employees.

The In-Network Degree Assistance program provides employees with as much as 90% of the tuition costs, or up to $5,250 for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree or $10,000 for a graduate degree annually, for accredited, in-network colleges that are outside of the College Commitment program.

The company’s Out-of-Network Degree Assistance program will cover up to $2,500 for an associate’s, $5,250 for a bachelor’s or $10,000 for graduate degree annually at an accredited university outside the Guild Education university network.

The company also offers employees a leadership-education program, an on-site MBA program and an internal professional-development program — so while the College Commitment Program may be new, the company’s assistance for employees advancing their education and careers is not.

“Investing in our employees and their futures will not only make us a stronger company, but have a lasting positive impact on those who might otherwise never get the chance to attend college,” said Jon Kaplan, vice president of training and development at Discover, in a news release.

Grace Schweizer is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.