Starbucks announced that it will provide a free online college education to thousands of its workers through an arrangement with Arizona State University.
The unorthodox program, which is open to any of Starbucks’ 135,000 employees, will not require that they remain with the company. Qualifications include that they work at least 20 hours a week and have the grades and test scores to gain admission to Arizona State. For a barista with at least two years of college credit, the company will pay full tuition, and for those with fewer credits it will pay part of the cost, however, even for many of them, courses will be free, with government and university aid.
Starbucks' unique undertaking is unlike most companies, which typically offer tuition reimbursement that usually come with limitations like the full cost not being paid, new employees being excluded, requiring that workers stay for years afterward, or limiting reimbursement to work-related courses.
Essentially the coffeehouse enterprise is inviting its workers, from the day they join the company, to study whatever they like and then leave whenever they like, knowing the possibility that many of them will leave for better-paying jobs once they obtain a degree.
Starbucks chairman and chief executive Howard D. Schultz says that even if said employees did leave the company, their experience “would be accreted to our brand, our reputation and our business.”
“I believe it will lower attrition, it’ll increase performance, it’ll attract and retain better people,” Schultz said.
Arizona State has one of the largest online degree programs in the United States, with 11,000 students and 40 undergraduate majors, and one of the most highly regarded. The university and the company say they do not know how many Starbucks employees will take advantage of the program, which includes help with paperwork and academic advising, but they expect thousands to enroll. Arizona State says it has prepared for a major surge in enrollment.
Tuition for Arizona State’s online undergraduate courses is usually about $500 per credit, and it takes 120 credits to earn a bachelor’s degree.
(Photo: REUTERS/Joel Boh)