Walmart offering college credit, tuition assistance to workers

You can now earn college credit for working at Walmart. The retailer is launching a program to help defray the expenses of college courses and provide credit for on-the-job training.

Dubbed The Lifelong Learning Program, Walmart is partnering with American Public University to offer online classes toward earning a two- or four-year degree. APU is also offering credit for certain training programs and duties performed by Walmart associated that can be applied toward a degree.

"Up to 45% of an Associates or Bachelors degree could be earned from 'experiential learning'," Alicia Ledlie, senior director of the Lifelong Learning Program tells Walletpop. So experience with inventory management, workplace ethics and customer service would all count toward a management degree, she says. "(It) could cut almost two years off earning a Bachelors degree. There are already 200,000 people whose job learning has been evaluated for credit, and by 2012, we will have over one million. That's more than 70% of our workforce."

That's an eligibility number not actual enrollment numbers. So, in other words, roughly 70% of Walmart workers' duties could ultimately be eligible for college credit at APU.

Every Walmart and Sam's Club associate who enrolls in the program will also receive a grant from APU equal to a 15% tuition reduction. Walmart also plans to invest $50 million over the next three years in order to provide tuition assistance and other tools to help employees prepare for college-level work and complete their degrees.

The catch -- the employee must keep working for Walmart to qualify for financial assistance toward tuition, but once the work component has been evaluated and credited, those credits remain as long as that student continues with APU through the completion of their degree.

Is this indentured servitude or the cheapening of education? Ledlie thinks not. "It's really important to go back to the credibility of the school." APU currently does the same for the U.S. Military, evaluating training for college credit. While it's unusual for a private employer to embark on such a program, she says, Walmart's program is not the first of its kind.

APU is an online-only program, something Ledlie says Walmart employees preferred over a more traditional learning environment. A survery of more than 32,000 associates revealed that 72% wanted an online learning environment. This way, they can keep working while in school -- at Walmart.

Check out Walmart's job listings here.

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