Wal-Mart has announced that it is going to offer its workers support for a college degree program. Ordinarily, most of us in higher ed would say “Great! More employers should recognize that helping their employees pay for and earn a degree is an investment; it is a Good Thing to do for the employee and for the company! No brainer, baby!”
But so far, there’s not been the most positive buzz about this in the higher education channels. For one thing, the whole deal seems of questionable business ethics and very questionable educational quality. I like this summary of issues from the blog Confessions of a Community College Dean – with this one note that echoes my own concerns from a PLA perspective:
- The real eyebrow-raiser for me was the offer of academic credits for Wal-Mart work experience. Apparently, the ethics training Wal-Mart provides its employees will form the basis for some academic credits. I’ll repeat that for emphasis. The ethics training conducted by Wal-Mart will be given academic credit. Just let that one sink in for a few minutes.
The New York Times article includes this example:
For instance, a department-level manager, who receives training from Wal-Mart in areas like pricing, inventory management and ethics, would be eligible for 24 on-the-job credits, at no charge, toward a 61-credit associates’ degree. A cashier would be eligible for six credits toward a 61-credit associate’s degree or a 120-credit bachelor’s degree.
What is all this “credit for experience” stuff? It’s PLA (or maybe internships, or at the very least “experiential education”), applied in TERRIBLE ways.
The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning’s standards for PLA (see Assessing Learning: Standards, Principles & Procedures, second edition – by Morry Fiddler, Catherine Marienau, and Urban Whitaker) state that credit cannot be earned for experience, but for academic (meaning linked to the academic theory), college-level learning.
There is a difference, people!
There is no college course in “How Laura raised her children,” but there are college courses in, for example, Sociology of the Family or Living and Learning With Your Toddler (I should take this course given my own learning curve).
Likewise, is there going to be a college-level course called “How Wal-Mart manages its inventory?” That would likely not be broadly applicable or generalizable, even if it is based on someone’s (Sam Walton’s) theory of inventory management. What about Advanced Inventory Theory instead? Oh look – there’s an actual textbook (several, in fact), and check out the course description. Sounds like a college course, to me:
This course will provide an in-depth study of classical models for inventory management and their extensions. We will study both deterministic and stochastic inventory models, with more emphasis on the latter. Although many of the topics we will cover are of great interest to managers, our focus will be not on practice but on theory.
Something makes me doubt that Wal-Mart’s own employee training programs and the experience their employees gain is actually “college-level” learning, grounded in academic theory.
I have no doubt that there are high quality, theoretically grounded employee training programs out there. But to automatically provide 24 credits, at no charge, for “work experience” is oh-so-problematic. Where is the learning? I am having a hard time seeing it.
As I said, this whole thing gives me the heebeejeebees! (Maybe Wal-Mart will sell me a salve for this condition, but of course, only if it’s in stock.)