Date: 10th May 2012
When something sounds too good to be true, you check it out. So Jeana Murphy and Henry Jordan did some sleuthing when their employer, Walmart, offered to pick up part of the tab for degrees from an online university that offers flexible hours, relatively cheap tuition and college credit for on-the-job training and experience.
Murphy, a 30-year-old assistant manager at a Walmart store in Elkin, N.C., started by Googling the American Public University System, the for-profit institution that two years ago landed a highly sought partnership as the preferred educational provider for the more than 1.3 million U.S. employees of Walmart Stores, Inc.
Her wariness was due in part to having been burned before, when she attended an unaccredited for-profit college and earned credits that later didn't transfer to Wilkes Community College. At first glimpse APUS looked legit, however. And Murphy was impressed with course offerings from the university, which enrolls 110,000 students in online programs, about 64 percent of whom are active-duty members of the U.S. military.
But Murphy wanted more assurance that her money, time and effort would go toward transferable credits and a valuable degree. Although Walmart chips in with grants that cover 15 percent of the tuition costs for employees that attend the university, she was still looking at $638 per three-credit course. That works out to roughly $25,000 for a bachelor’s degree, minus potentially substantial savings from transfer credits and through prior learning assessment -- the process of awarding college credit for learning outside the traditional academic setting.
To get another perspective, Murphy looked up the Better Business Bureau’s take on American Public. Then she called the university to ask about its accreditation and whether her community college credits would transfer. APUS gets more respect than most for-profits, even being called a “white hat” by critics of the industry. And unlike some online institutions, it holds regional accreditation, which increases the portability of credits.
“It was the smoothest process,” says Murphy. “This is like an answer for everything I’d hoped for.”
Jordan, 47, took a different approach. Walmart hired him for an entry-level job in 1985, after he’d completed only one semester at a community college. But he worked his way up the ranks, and now, as the senior vice president for the company’s Eastern seaboard division, Jordan oversees Walmart’s operations in six states, including West Virginia, where APUS is based. So he popped by the company’s headquarters to chat with its president and CEO, Wallace Boston, while he was “deliberating” about whether to register.
Like Murphy, Jordan came away impressed, in part due to the flexible hours of the university's course offerings, which allow him to work ahead in weeks where he’s traveling or under the gun at work.
“I’ve got 340 Walmart stores and I’ve still got time to pursue my education,” Jordan says. “The accessibility to me is just priceless.”
He and Murphy are now working toward bachelor’s degrees in retail management, joining more than 2,800 of their fellow employees who have enrolled in a wide range of degree programs through the partnership. Both have also earned credits for experience and training in their roles at Walmart.
“They are recognizing that these are things that Walmart trained us to do,” Murphy says.