Wal-Mart launches college plan for employees

New York City Wal-Mart Stores on Thursday announced plans to offer its U.S. employees a chance to earn a college degree from a Web-based university.

The discounter has entered into a partnership with American Public University, a for-profit school with about 70,000 online students, whereby some Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club employees will be able to earn credits in areas such as retail management and logistics for performing their regular jobs.

The university will offer eligible employees 15% price reductions on tuition, and Wal-Mart will invest $50 million over three years in other tuition assistance for the employees who participate.

The company said it will commit $50 million over three years to help workers pay for books and tuition above the reduced tuition rate. After the reduction, tuition will cost $212.50 per undergraduate credit hour and $255 for graduate credits.

Wal-Mart made the announcement at a meeting at the Bud Walton arena in Fayetteville, Ark., where about 4,000 employees were invited to attend events scheduled around the chain’s shareholders’ meeting on Friday.

“It’s important because it reflects the kind of company we are,” Eduardo Castro-Wright, who heads Wal-Mart’s operations in the United States, told the employees. “A company that says, ‘Anyone who wants to learn, who wants to grow with us, who is willing to work hard to get a college degree, can do that.’”

American Public University, which is based in Charles Town, W.Va., is reviewing all jobs at Wal-Mart to determine which ones will qualify under the agreement. By January 2012, some 70% of United States employees will be in jobs that have been reviewed by the university, Wal-Mart said.

To be eligible for the program, employees must have been in the job at least one year full-time, or three years part-time, and must also score “on target” or “above target” on their most recent evaluation.