How about shopping for a college degree at Wal-Mart?

It seems one giant– and much maligned —  retailer is taking President Barack Obama’s challenge to make sure more students get college degrees very seriously:    That would be Wal-Mart, according to The New York Times .

A good place to shop, but for a college degree?

The story says Wal-Mart will work with a Web-based university to offer affordable college degrees to its employees, who can earn college credits while performing their regular duties.

So exactly why is it such a big deal? After all, lots of companies help their employees get degrees.  The move by Wal-Mart is huge because of the sheer size of the company work force —  some 1.4 million Americans work at the discount retail chain.

“If 10 to 15 percent of employees take advantage of this, that’s like graduating three Ohio State Universities,”  Sara Martinez Tucker, a former under secretary of education who is now on Wal-Mart’s external advisory council, told The Times. “It’s a lot of Americans getting a college degree at a time when it’s becoming less affordable.”

How promising an idea is it? And what are the implications? Is this a publicity gimmick or a genuine attempt to help Americans get better educated?

– Liz Willen