Disney offers tuition for hourly workers in tight job market

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - The Walt Disney Co. is offering to pay full tuition for hourly workers who want to earn a college degree, finish a high school diploma or learn a new skill, the entertainment giant said Wednesday.

As many as 80,000 hourly workers in the United States could be eligible for the program, which pays upfront tuition for employees taking online classes starting this fall.

Disney initially will invest $50 million into the "Disney Aspire" program and up to $25 million a year after that, the company said.

"We can't wait to see what paths our cast members take with Disney Aspire," the company said in a blog post.

Disney joins other large corporations that have begun paying tuition for workers in a job market with historically low unemployment. In May, Walmart said it will offer workers the chance to get a college degree at three universities with online programs.

Starbucks partnered with Arizona State University to offer tuition coverage for U.S. workers earning a bachelor's degree.

Disney is rolling out its program in phases, with the first limited to online classes. In-classroom courses could be added if there's demand for them, a spokeswoman said.

Disney's program is being administered by Guild Education, the same Denver-based firm operating Walmart's program.

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