11:33 AM

Walmart Associate Takes Advantage of Opportunity to Earn College Degree

Richard Barnes with Doug McMillon

Richard Barnes is a Bellevue University adult learning success story. A long-distance success story.

In Richard's day-to-day job, mileage may matter. But not when gaining professional skills and a degree from Bellevue University.

Living in eastern Alabama, nearly a thousand miles from campus, Richard took advantage of a generous offer from his employer.

Barnes, a logistics worker at a Walmart Distribution Center in Opelika, Alabama, turned to the Walmart’s Live Better U program. The program allows Walmart associates to continue their education and, now, earn their college degree with 100% of the costs covered by Walmart. Bellevue University is part of Guild Education's academic network and serves current Walmart associates through the program.

When Walmart started the Live Better U program in 2018, Barnes was quick to see the benefits.

"I was in the first crop of students to take advantage of the program," he said. Barnes started classes at Bellevue University in September 2018 and obtained a degree in Supply Chain, Transportation and Logistics Management in March 2020.

Though Barnes has been an associate of Walmart for 20 years, this was not his first attempt at continuing his education. Barnes participated in a program through a previous employer, but the company encountered financial difficulties and pulled funding. Barnes still wanted to get his degree but didn't want to incur debt.

Barnes noted that as an adult going back to school, "It's always a big fear when you go back to school that you just don't know how you're going to be treated." Bellevue University removed all doubt. "Everyone at Bellevue University was great. Great faculty, great administrators, great staff. Everyone from the professors to library staff really jumped in and helped out. If I got something wrong in class, the professors pointed it out, but stayed really encouraging."

Barnes pointed out one helpful person in particular: Tutoring & Study Skills Program Manager Rachael Davis. "If I ever met Rachael in person, I would hug her until her bones broke."

Recently, Richard was able to meet Doug McMillon, President and CEO of Walmart, in person. McMillon was touring various distribution centers within the company, and when he came to Opelika, Richard asked his manager to arrange a meeting between the two. When they met on the production floor, "I handed him my diploma and told him 'Thank you for the opportunity for me to get this,'" Barnes said.

Barnes was so impressed with Bellevue University, he continued with classes at Bellevue University and obtained a People in Business Leadership Certificate. Reflecting on where he is now, Barnes said he feels completely confident in the advanced use of key business tools he uses every day – and truly grateful for the support he received at Bellevue University.

Rick Pennington, Bellevue University's Supply Chain Transportation Logistics Program Director and one of Richard's professors, noted that as Richard progressed, he became a stronger student. "He had a little tougher time in the beginning because he had been out of school for so long. But as he took feedback from the instructors, he became a leader in the courses," Pennington said. During Richard's time at Bellevue University, he made the Dean's List three times.

When asked what challenges adult learners face that Bellevue University helps them with, Pennington said, "The biggest challenge of adult students is being out of school. But here, there's great tutoring support to help them overcome that. Pennington added, "Our program is more research-based with hands-on learning, giving a more real-world feel. Students attain better knowledge of current things going on in the world."

On seeing the success of Richard in his career, "It's quite satisfying. It's really nice to see students succeed in the real world and to see Richard recognized by Walmart's CEO."