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Amazon, Stan State partnership pays tuition for employees
amazon building
Hourly employees at the new Amazon fulfillment center in Turlock could pursue higher education for free at Stanislaus State thanks to the online retailer's Career Choice program.

Amazon workers throughout the Valley — and, soon, in Stanislaus County — will be able to pursue a degree for free thanks to a new partnership between the online retailer and local colleges. 

Stanislaus State is one of several northern California higher education institutes to join Amazon’s Career Choice program, which was first started in 2012 and reached 50,000 employees. Now, more than 140 national and local universities will partner with Amazon to provide fully-funded college tuition to the company’s more than 750,000 employees, including those who work hourly. Other Northern California colleges added to the program this week include Modesto Junior College and California State University Fresno, in addition to Stanislaus State.

“We are very excited about becoming an Amazon Career Choice Educational Partner school,”said Stanislaus State Interim Dean Kari Knutson Miller. “It is a great opportunity to support pathways between work and higher education, economic opportunity, career advancement, and the academic, personal, and professional development of participating adult learners in the region.”

In addition to higher education, Amazon is also offering to cover the cost of GED preparation, high school completion, English language proficiency and other industry certifications for employees as part of the Career Choice program. While employees previously were reimbursed for tuition, the program has now expanded to include full college tuition and access to annual funds without any limitations to the number of years employees can benefit.

Eligibility to participate in the program begins after 90 days of employment and both full- and part-time Amazon employees may participate, though part-time employees receive half tuition. Amazon pays all tuition and fees for participants in the program while institutions pay nothing thanks to the company’s $1.2 billion investment to grow the program.

According to Amazon’s Northern California HR Manager Nicole Bilich, the organization has received positive feedback on the program from both employees and institutions that have participated. 

“Especially with the most recent expansion with us covering 100 percent of tuition up front, that’s a really big draw for a lot of associates who, in the past, have had to do it through a repayment process. This is a lot more convenient for them,” said Bilich. “I anticipate this is going to be a very big program for the educational institutions because we have a lot of folks in house who haven’t been able to follow their dreams…I think we’re really going to see a really big uptick in our associates going to different universities.”

Turlock’s Amazon fulfillment center, which is under construction off of Fulkerth Road, is expected to be completed this year, but Bilich is unsure how many employees will work there. Many will likely be interested in the Career Choice program, which is open to Tier 1 associates like line workers, package sorters and more. In the meantime, Stanislaus State’s Turlock and Stockton campuses will likely benefit from other regional Amazon warehouses and centers, which employ thousands of workers in the Valley. 

“There is quite a large group of folks eligible to be enrolled who are going to take advantage of this opportunity that they didn’t have in the past,” Bilich said.