PITTSBURG, Kan. — Josh Lewis is going back to college to earn a business degree.
What’s different about this second go-around?
He won’t be saddled with hefty student loan debt.
Employed by megaretailer Walmart, Lewis is the sole associate currently working at the Pittsburg Walmart Supercenter who is enrolled in the company’s Live Better U program. This has allowed Lewis to go back to college to earn a degree.
Walmart’s Live Better U program, in a nutshell, allows its associates and eligible family members the opportunity to further their education by either earning their high school diploma/GED for free or pursuing a college degree for just $1 a day.
Before joining Walmart in February 2015, the 26-year-old had racked up 78 college credits at several campuses in Oklahoma and Kansas. In the process, he’d accumulated nearly $8,000 in debt. Now married, working full time and raising two children, a newborn and a 3-year-old, accruing additional debt to complete his degree was next to impossible.
That is, until he heard about Live Better U.
“I talked it over with my wife, and we agreed — I’ve been to all of these colleges, I have all of these credits — why not give it a shot?” he said.
With his wife’s blessing, he enrolled in the Live Better U program last fall.
“This is something I really wanted to pursue,” he said.
Just a $1 a day, or $90 per semester — that’s all Lewis has to contribute financially toward his degree; Walmart takes care of all other associated costs, about $1,800 total, including tuition and book rental fees. That’s less than what most people spend with the rental of a single textbook, Lewis said with a chuckle. While attending Allen Community College in Kansas, Lewis was paying roughly $1,000 per semester. Compared with an institution such as Harvard, whose annual semester fees are nearly $70,000, Lewis’ out-of-pocket costs seemed rather benign, he said. Yet both pale in comparison to Live Better U’s $90 per semester. Because of this, there’s no need for a student loan and accruing additional thousands in debt.
“I don’t have to take out a loan for $90,” Lewis said with a grin. “I can make that happen.”
Student loan debt has been a hot-button topic for a while now; during the recent Democratic primary debates, candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren brought up student loan debt forgiveness.
According to CNN, Americans hold nearly $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, more than they do for credit cards or cars. The average borrower from the Class of 2017 will enter the workforce with $28,650 in loans.
Initially, Lewis enrolled in three classes from Bellevue University in Nebraska, one of three universities with which Walmart initially partnered.
But he was quickly overwhelmed between his duties as husband, father and working full time as a Walmart Academy coordinator. He scaled things back to a single class.
“They let you take a full load or just one class, whatever your want to do,” the Bartlesville, Oklahoma, native said of the Denver, Colorado-based Guild Education, which partners with Walmart to operate Live Better U. “It’s still $1 a day either way.”
After he completes the class in which he’s currently enrolled, as well as three additional fill-in classes, he’ll be able to focus on those directly related to his major — business leadership and management.
His plan is to graduate with his degree in the spring of 2021.
His first class he chose under Live Better U centered around basic video game development; it sounded like a fun class to take, he said.
“That first week, I’m sitting there playing video games, and my wife says, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m studying.’ She gave me a look,” he said
Playing video games, he told her, was literally what his professor wanted his students to do.
“It was kind of fun to do that,” Lewis said. “That’s why you take these (non-major) classes, to have some fun and get some credits.”
Even though his degree will be online, he has tons of support, including a Guild-supplied counselor. The counselor, Lewis said, is there “so you’ll have that university help you need. He’s actually texted me three or four days ago; they really try to connect with you. It’s really nice to have that support because going back to school and working full time and having a family isn’t easy, but I’m doing it.”
While he’s happy he won’t be accruing additional student loan debt, he said the debt he still owed served as a motivator.
“I wanted to make sure that debt wasn’t wasted,” Lewis said. “That I put it toward finishing and getting my degree.”
A business degree, coupled with his years of retail and management experience at the nation’s largest employer, “will definitely get me ahead — no doubt about it.”