Product, Service & Design Innovation
Starbucks Partnering with ASU to Offer Employees Free College Tuition

Starbucks has announced the Starbucks College Achievement Plan — an opportunity for eligible part-time and full-time employees to complete a Bachelor’s degree with full tuition reimbursement through a collaboration with Arizona State University's online degree program.

Employees working an average of 20 hours/week at Starbucks and its subsidiaries (Teavana, La Boulange, Evolution Fresh and Seattle's Best Coffee) are eligible and can choose from more than 40 undergraduate degree programs offered by ASU. Those admitted as a junior or senior will earn full tuition reimbursement for each semester of full-time coursework they complete toward a Bachelor’s degree, while freshmen and sophomores will be eligible for a partial tuition scholarship and need-based financial aid for two years of full-time study. Starbucks isn’t requiring any commitment from them to remain at the company after graduation.

“There’s no doubt, the inequality within the country has created a situation where many Americans are being left behind. The question for all of us is, should we accept that, or should we try and do something about it,” Starbucks president and CEO Howard Schultz said in a statement. “Supporting our partners’ [employees] ambitions is the very best investment Starbucks can make. Everyone who works as hard as our partners do should have the opportunity to complete college, while balancing work, school and their personal lives.”

Starbucks says that the investment is designed to support the nearly 50 percent of college students who fail to complete their degrees due to mounting debt, a tenuous work-life balance and a lack of support.

“We can't wait for Washington. We've got to step up as we have done in the past and demonstrate true leadership,” Schultz told host Jon Stewart on Monday’s Daily Show.

The plan aims to provide working students with flexibility, financing and comprehensive support to complete their degree. In addition to financial support, a dedicated enrollment coach, financial aid counselor, academic advisor, adaptive learning services, networking and community-building opportunities will support the students through graduation.

“It’ll be millions of dollars per year,” Schultz said on The Daily Show. “We’re a public company; we have to build long-term value for the shareholder, but we recognized a long time ago when we provided health care for our people, ownership for our people, the only way you can build a great and enduring company is by linking shareholder value with value for employees,” he added.

Abraham Cervantes, who has worked at Starbucks as a barista for two years, said: “I was put here to play music, and my goal is to change someone’s life — at least one. I want to teach at a university, and for that, you need a college degree. For me, the opportunity to earn my degree means I have the chance to teach others and make a better life for myself and my mom who raised me and my three siblings on her own.”

ASU president Dr. Michael M. Crow said: “ASU is pioneering a new university model focused on inclusivity and degree completion, and Starbucks is establishing a new precedent for the responsibility and role of a public company that leads through the lens of humanity and supports its partners’ life goals with access to education.”

The Starbucks-ASU collaboration was inspired by participation in the Markle Economic Future Initiative, co-chaired by Schultz and Markle president Zoë Baird, with Dr. Michael Crow as one of its members.

“This pioneering collaboration between Starbucks and ASU is exactly the kind of innovative action this country needs to help Americans reach their dreams,” Baird said. “This is a breakthrough in using online learning backed by the financial resources that make it possible to participate. America urgently needs leadership to help people successfully transition to today’s economic realities.”

This is the latest in a string of groundbreaking partnerships for ASU, whose School of Sustainability has recently teamed up with the City of Phoenix on a comprehensive waste-diversion campaign called "Reimagine Phoenix," and the Dutch municipality of Haarlemmermeer to create the world’s first regional plan based on the principles of a circular economy.

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