If we're going to push every
18-year-old in the country into some kind of higher education, most people will likely be better off in a programs that involves logistics and linoleum, rather than ivy and
the Iliad. And, in contrast to an associate's degree in Japanese studies from Northern
Virginia Community College, we know there is at least one employer
interested in a Wal-Mart-subsidized logistics sheepskin: Wal-Mart.
But far more exciting than the prospect of bringing a bunch of new BAs into the world are the prospects for bringing Wal-Mart's habit of changing the way people do business into the world of education. The Chronicle of
Higher Education explains how Wal-Mart selected American Public University as their provider:
As American Public turned its
attention to luring the retail behemoth, it was apparently able to be
more flexible than other colleges and willing to "go the extra mile" to
accommodate Wal-Mart, said Jeffrey M. Silber, a stock analyst and
managing director of BMO Capital Markets. That flexibility included
That flexibility also includes giving course credit for on-the-job time and training: "Employees could earn up to 45 percent of the credit for an associate or
bachelor's degree at APU "based on what they have learned in their
career at Wal-Mart," according to the retailer's Web site." Which raises the important question of whether there will be more than one employer interested in those Wal-Mart degrees. (Also of interest: Will Wal-Mart students be eligible for federal education loans?)
even willing for-profit education providers haven't yet accepted what it
really means to become part of the Wal-Mart supply chain:
[American Public's chief executive, Wallace E.
Boston Jr.] said the relationship was going well, but the giant retailer--used to dealing with thousands of suppliers around the world--was still
adjusting to the unusual nature of their agreement.
"We had to keep
reminding them in a nice way that we weren't an outsourced provider,
we're a university," Boston said.
But American Public is an
outsourced provider--and there's no shame in that. Wal-Mart
pushes its suppliers. Hard. The company brings dramatic change to every industry
that they touch, and higher ed will be no exception. Competitors will have to work harder, suppliers will be bitter at first and then, if the relationship works out, they stand to make a lot of money. If and when the higher ed bubble bursts, Wal-Mart's employees may not be thrilled to find themselves holding half a BA with Wal-Mart's fingerprints on it. But Wal-Mart is brilliant at helping Americans will get more of what they want, on the cheap. And right
now, Americans want college degrees.