Wal-Mart's College Program: Sign of a Benevolent Giant?

Rack up credits while toiling for low pay

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The country's largest private employer turned heads Thursday when it announced a new program to award employees college credit for jobs such as truck loading and ringing up purchases. Retail giant Wal-Mart is partnering with the online-based American Public University to help Wal-Mart employees earn associate's or bachelor's degrees.

Workers can receive credit for courses like finance fundamentals and retail shipping on the job and then take courses outside the workplace to complete a full degree. It's all in an effort to help employees move up the corporate latter. Will this improve Wal-Mart's stingy image?

  • This Can't Be for Real! writes an astonished Chris at Americablog: "A few years ago, few would have predicted anything like this from Wal-Mart. Wouldn't it be nice if programs like this helped drive down the outrageously high university costs?"
  • May Reshape Wal-Mart's Image, writes Douglas McIntyre at 24/7 Wall Street: "It may take several months to know how many Walmart workers enroll in APU courses, but the project could help improve the image of the world’s largest retailer which has been accused for years as being 'employee unfriendly', especially due to its efforts to keep unions out of its stores. And, there is that class action suit over sexual discrimination that covers  more than one million women.  Walmart can use all the good PR it can get. It motives may not be entirely pure, but to its workers, that may not matter."
  • Will Employees Even Take Advantage?  Claudia Deutsch at True/Slant has her doubts: "The Catch 22, of course, is cost. Even after Wal-mart kicks in its share, and even after on-the-job credits are applied, an associate’s degree would still cost about $7,900. Now that’s a paltry amount when compared to the six-digit sums that a four-year degree costs these days. But to someone making $11.75 an hour — the average Wal-mart wage — there might actually be no difference between $7,900 and $79,000 or even $790,000. It’s beyond their ability to pay, end discussion. (I also don’t know how marketable an associate’s degree is, compared to a BA — but my guess is, it does go well beyond a high school diploma)"
  • Wal-Mart Really Does Have Everything, smirks Katherine Mangu-Ward at Reason: "I'm seriously considering immigrating to a 24-hour Wal-Mart. As far as I can tell, as soon as Wal-Mart starts offering sleeping pods, a fairly decent lower middle-class, middle-American life-cycle should be possible entirely within the confines of one of the megastores. I will get a job there, purchase my cheap organic produce in-house, pick up a gun if I want one, and buy everything else on the cheap. When I have kids, I will get Wal-Mart to put RFID chips in them, so that they will be easier to keep track of. When I am old, I will get my "women's medications" for osteoporosis at a massive discount."
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