Amazon increases its tuition assistance for hourly workers

amazonsignage2Amazon.com says it will boost the amount of tuition assistance available to its hourly employees who pursue associate degrees or vocational certificates. The company will now pay up to $3,000 a year (totaling up to $12,000 over four years), which is an increase from $2,000 a year (or up to $8,000 total) when the program began.

The company announced the change this morning, in advance of its annual shareholders’ meeting Thursday morning in Seattle.

The “Career Choice” program was rolled out last July by Jeff Bezos, who described the effort as an “experiment” in a message on the Amazon.com home page at the time. The original announcement came in the midst of heightened scrutiny from the media and labor groups about working conditions at the company’s warehouses.

The program, available for use by Amazon hourly workers who have been with the company for at least three years, is unusual in that it funds education “only in areas that are well-paying and in high demand” as measured by data from sources including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Announcing the funding increase this morning, the company said the top areas pursued by employees have been computer and information technology, health and sciences, and accounting.

Amazon says it will pay the tuition even if the skills wouldn’t apply to future job at Amazon. Tuition and fees are paid in advance, up to 95 percent of the total cost, and can’t be applied to Bachelors or Masters degrees.