Schooled Reporting on education

Walmart rolls back college costs

Education | The nation’s largest retailer becomes the biggest private company to offer low-wage workers a higher education benefit
by Leigh Jones
Posted 6/13/18, 01:51 pm

Walmart unveiled a plan last month to help its associates earn a college degree—for the ridiculously low rollback price of $1 a day. Although not the first U.S. employer to offer a college partnership program, it’s the largest. It’s also one of the only companies to offer the benefit to entry-level employees who might not otherwise have a chance to further their education and improve their job prospects.

If the program succeeds, workforce development advocates predict other employers will follow suit, a trend that could do more to lift low-income families out of poverty than any government assistance program.

Under the plan, announced at the end of May, Walmart will pay for tuition, books, and fees for any part- or full-time employees willing to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business or supply-chain management. The workers must attend one of three nonprofit colleges—University of Florida, Brandman University, or Bellevue University—chosen for their success working with adult learners. Walmart will provide college-prep classes for any workers who need extra help before enrolling.

The company expects 68,000 of its 1.4 million employees to participate within the first five years. Although the program only includes two degrees to start with, Walmart plans a future expansion into other fields of study.

Robert Doar, a resident scholar in poverty studies with the American Enterprise Institute, told me Walmart’s move sends a strong message about the role business can play in helping develop the U.S. workforce at a time when people who have some level of higher education make more and have better opportunities than those who don’t.

“At the same time, the demands of workplace are changing so that employers need workers who have skills that are often evidenced by having a college or graduate degree,” he said. “We know we have this issue, and the question is, what can we do about it?”

Community colleges, typically considered the best places for technical, or industry-specific,  education, haven’t been that effective without direct partnerships with companies, Doar said. Four-year schools also don’t have a universally good track record with nontraditional students. Programs like Walmart’s help bridge the gap between workers and the skills they need to get better, and better paying, jobs. And now that Walmart offers such a valuable benefit, other companies are bound to follow suit.

“As the labor market remains tight, employers will have to compete for workers,” Doar said. “They will examine their own benefit packages. They will either offer the same benefit, because Walmart does, or they will have to come up with offerings of their own.”

All that competitive pressure is good for the economy, and even better for workers.

Associated Press/Photo by Carlos Osorio Associated Press/Photo by Carlos Osorio Students on the Wayne State University campus in Detroit, Mich.

Back to court

Campus ministry InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is pushing for a court to weigh in on its dispute with Wayne State University, even though administrators reinstated the group’s official status in March. The school kicked InterVarsity off campus over its refusal to abandon faith-based requirements for leaders. Two days after InterVarsity filed suit (after trying unsuccessfully to resolve the issue privately) the school reversed course and agreed the group could require leaders to actually be Christians.

But its relenting didn’t include changing the so-called nondiscrimination policy, which requires recognized groups to accept all students into membership and leadership roles, regardless of whether they support the group’s message. Wayne State effectively gave InterVarsity an exemption but failed to acknowledge the policy violates constitutional religious liberty protections.

Represented by religious liberty law firm Becket, InterVarsity is fighting the school’s attempt to dismiss the case, which would allow it to keep the policy intact—and kick Christian student groups off campus in the future.

“Wayne State allows 90 student groups to make their own rules for leaders—everyone from fraternities to the Quidditch Club,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel with Becket. “But Wayne State can’t wave a magic wand and make the Constitution disappear. Christian student groups have the same rights as everyone else.” —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Steven Senne Associated Press/Photo by Steven Senne An unidentified 15-year-old high school student using a vaping device in Cambridge, Mass.

Smoke and mirrors scholarship?

Anti-smoking groups are decrying an admittedly sneaky self-promotion strategy gaining popularity among e-cigarette sellers. Several online retailers offer small scholarships to students willing to write essays about the so-called benefits of vaping. Not only can the retailers use the material for self-promotion, they also can use the offering to get their stores listed on university websites. Gregg Haifley, director of federal relations for the American Cancer Society’s lobbying arm, accused the companies of using youth as advertising proxies: “They can gussy it up any way they want, try to put lipstick on that pig, but this is about marketing.” Meanwhile, high schools are trying to figure out how to discourage vaping, which has grown increasingly popular among students taught all their lives that smoking is dangerous. —L.J.

Education activism

Arizona teachers, riding high on their successful bid for significant pay raises, are now rallying supporters to boost education funding by raising taxes on the rich. The teachers have until July 5 to collect more than 150,000 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot. The Invest in Education Act would raise income taxes on Arizonans who earn more than $250,000, with 60 percent of the money going for teacher pay and the rest earmarked for maintenance and operations.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, students from Parkland, Fla., are spending the summer registering young people to vote in November. David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, and Jaclyn Corin became outspoken gun-control advocates after a former classmate attacked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 students and teachers in February. They hope to unseat lawmakers who get support from the National Rifle Association. —L.J.

Guilty plea

Two of four Wheaton College football players have now pleaded guilty in a hazing case involving a classmate who left the Christian school after accusing the men of attacking him. Kyler Kregel pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery charges last week and will spend one year on conditional discharge while he completes 100 hours of community service. Noah Spielman pleaded guilty in March after prosecutors agreed to drop nine felony charges against him. The victim accused the men of abducting him from his dorm room and leaving him half-naked in a park near campus. He also claimed they tried to sodomize him with an object. —L.J.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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