A Wal-Mart in Panorama City, Calif.
A Wal-Mart in Panorama City, Calif. - 
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by Alisa Roth

Wal-mart is teaming up with American Public University, an online, for-profit educator, to offer discounted degrees for its employees. The retail giant is investing $50 million to help its workers afford tuition and books.

The program will allow employees to get school credit for jobs they're already performing; on-the-job training in something like pricing or inventory management would count towards degree points. Workers could eventually earn either an associates or a bachelors degree.

Initially, about 200,000 employees could get credit for their work. But Wal-Mart says eventually about 70 percent of its employees would be eligible for the program.

Despite Wal-Mart's reputation for taking on new ventures like gas stations and financial services, the company claims it's not getting involved in the education business. In a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Education, Wal-Mart acknowledged that one of its "aims with this program is to try some innovative approaches that seem promising." Though considering the size of the retailer, any changes to business can have an industry-wide impact; Wal-Mart's prescription drug discounts influenced a universal drop in drug prices.