Wal-Mart University To Offer Education To All Employees

Great news for thousands of workers around the country. Education is now within reach. Wal-Mart has just announced that it is funding an online school designed to offer low-cost education to its employees.

American Public University appeals to students’ wallets with its motto: “Respected. Affordable. Online.” Wal-Mart similarly promises “Everyday Low Prices.” So it’s perhaps only natural that these two bargain-hunters’ friends have teamed up.

On Thursday, Wal-Mart and APU parent American Public Education announced a partnership allowing Wal-Mart workers special access to APU’s all-Web degree programs. Employees will be awarded grants to defray costs, such as tuition and textbooks, and can earn credit for their on-the-job training and experience.

In a conference call discussing the deal, American Public’s chief executive, Wallace Boston, admitted that it was too early to tell how many workers will take advantage of the program, so he did not revise guidance. But with 1.4 million U.S. associates, Wal-Mart could give a huge boost to the firm’s current enrollment of 70,600. Already, APU is planning new concentrations in retail management and other disciplines that relate to Wal-Mart’s business.

Wal-Mart will provide $50 million to cover tuition and other costs. APU will contribute grants equivalent to 15% of tuition.

In the longer view, the Wal-Mart deal is also a major step forward for American Public’s strategy of expanding from its military base. Founder James Etter wanted to create a method of distance learning for soldiers, who often didn’t stay in one place long enough to get a degree. So in 1991, he founded American Military University as a correspondence college. Over the course of a decade, it migrated online.

Education is often a prime reason for enlisting in the first place, Boston pointed out in an interview with IBD.

“I think many people sign up for the military because of their education benefits,” Boston said. “While you’re active duty, they have a tuition-assistance program, and when you retire they have the G.I. Bill.”

Still, even this aid doesn’t pay for a high-end college tuition. So AMU has made a point of keeping its tuition low: $750 per undergraduate course, $850 per graduate course. Remarkably, the school hasn’t raised tuition in 10 years.

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