How a Woman at Walmart Is Making Employees' Access to Education a Priority

Jacqui Canney

Jacqui Canney, Chief People Officer of Walmart. Photo courtesy of Walmart

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Jacqui Canney, Chief People Officer at Walmart, was the first person in her family to go to college.  Both her grandmothers immigrated to the U.S. and worked as seamstresses, and their tireless work ethic largely informed how Canney was raised: with an emphasis on education. 

“Both my parents didn’t go to college, but they valued not only this work ethic but also what education could unlock,” Canney explains.

After graduating from college, Canney felt compelled to secure a job that would help her pay back her loans — and now, in the C-Suite at Walmart, she’s paying it forward. Canney recently sat down with Fairygodboss to speak about one of Walmart’s latest initiatives — one dear to her heart — that’s enabling employees to earn Associate’s or Bachelor’s degrees for just $1 a day.

Tell us about Walmart’s new educational offering to employees. 

Partnering with Guild Education, we’ve launched a new offering to our associates: for a dollar a day at certain accredited universities, through working at Walmart, you can get credit for either an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree — whatever you are aspiring to — and then be able to finish off with college credit to get those degrees. 

We launched it in late May/early June, and we’ve had thousands of associates already sign up, and tens of thousands show interest, which is really exciting.

And this offering extends to hourly employees, is that right? 

Yes, absolutely. It’s offered for a wide range of associates. 

What was your involvement in implementing this program? 

Our business leaders were very passionate and excited about this program, and then we had a people team that was equally passionate. My personal experience was having to cobble together the funds to go to college myself. And the CEO of Walmart U.S. similarly didn’t get a college experience until well into when he was working. So, I think part of it is a personal connection and knowing what it’s like to aspire to get those degrees and credentials but feeling limited by your financial resources. 

It was easier to implement than you may think because there wasn't a lot of convincing involved — it was just figuring out the execution at the scale that we’re on. You can’t dismiss that it costs money, but it was an investment that leaders at Walmart were willing to make for our people and their development. 

And going back to the personal connection for you, weren’t you the first person in your family to go to college? 

Yes. My grandmothers immigrated to the U.S. to Hoboken. They were both seamstresses. Their work ethic and what they were doing translated much into how my mom and dad were growing up. Both my parents didn’t go to college, but they valued not only this work ethic but also what education could unlock. So, for me and my sister, they were making sure they were doing the best they could to ensure we were getting the educational opportunities that were around us. 

They also expected us, though, to be putting hard work in. They had high expectations, so getting into college was important to them. How we financed it was going to be complicated, but they put in as much as they could, and I had to work my way through and then pay back loans after. I was excited to get a job at a company that my dad was proud to tell his friends about when he would commute on the train to New York City: “Jacqui works at Arthur Anderson,” he’d say — that was a lot of pride.

And now, when my mom talks to her friends about me working at Walmart, it’s the same thing.

I felt a great responsibility to get a job that was going to be able to help pay back those loans and show the pride that my parents put in was something that I felt really connected to. 

Now, I’m very proud of this new offering at Walmart. And I think the more that we promote it and encourage it and show results, the more associates will really take us up on it.  


To hear more from Canney, tune in to this recent episode of Fairygodboss Radio!