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Unemployment is near an 18-year low, and many companies are competing for talent across industries. With student loan debt at $1.5 trillion and counting, according to the Federal Reserve, education benefits are top of mind to recruit employees, experts say. For example, Kroger has rolled out a program offering up to $3,500 in education expenses annually to workers, including those who bag groceries part-time. Meanwhile, HCA Healthcare plans to spend up to $300 million on worker benefits, mostly education-related, including a student loan repayment program slated for launch in 2019. Home Depot, which already has invested about $136 million in tuition reimbursement over the past 13 years, has expanded employee eligibility for funding and removed a 90-day waiting period for tapping those funds. Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi professor Deniz Gevrek notes that raising salaries would be more expensive, and education incentives make “employees feel appreciated.”

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