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Social Responsibility

Walmart Dabbles in Higher Ed

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The Walmart on Campus program began in 2011 with the opening of a 3,500-sq.-ft. shop at the University of Arkansas. Earlier this year, a campus store debuted at Arizona State University in Tempe, and a third unit is set to open later this year at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

A Walmart spokesperson describes these stores as “an opportunity to bring low prices to students, reach new customers and serve our on-campus customers in a convenient way.” The stores don’t compete directly with the colleges’ bookstores; Walmart has no plans for moonlighting in the college textbook business. The stores sell general merchandise, health and beauty items and some groceries, along with providing pharmacy services -- including the retail giant’s $4 generic prescription drug program.

While Walmart continues to emphasize that they are testing this format, the timing of this trial could not be more fortuitous. Along with rising tuition and student loan costs, new research indicates that the price of housing and food trumps tuition costs for students who attend two- and four-year public universities in their home states. The research, compiled in a College Board survey, finds that while tuition for students attending public four-year schools in their state averaged $8,655 last year (a 5 percent jump from 2011), they paid $9,205 for housing and food.

Chances are that Millennials will not only appreciate the prices at the campus Walmart store but begin to develop an affinity for the brand, associating it with the good times they had at college – a connection that could go a long way toward building a lasting relationship.