Starbucks Offers Workers Free College Tuition

June 17, 2014
General Foundation

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more awesome at Starbucks (I’m looking at you, Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino), the coffee giant announced that it will now send its employees to college—for free. You heard that right. Starbucks has partnered with Arizona State University (ASU) to offer any Starbucks employee (135,000 nationally) a tuition-free college education through one of the 40 online bachelor’s programs at ASU.

According to the Starbucks website, ASU was chosen because the university “is ranked the second most innovative school in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and ranks 5th in the U.S. in producing the best-qualified graduates.”

Titled the “Starbucks College Achievement Plan”, employees will receive full tuition reimbursement if they enroll as either a junior or senior and work at least 20 hours per week for the company. Those that enroll during either their freshmen or sophomore years will be able to apply for scholarships and other need-based financial aid.

Starbucks explains the rationale:

“This program is designed to support college completion by offering full tuition reimbursement for juniors and seniors to finish their undergraduate degree, and providing an on-ramp and access to higher education for freshmen and sophomores with a partial scholarship. While there are two levels, both provide a single path toward graduation and put you in the lead position toward earning and finishing your degree.”

The company said there is no requirement to enroll in a degree program related to the Starbucks business and no stipulation to stay with the company after graduation.

“Degrees are about careers, and we’re thinking about your future, whether you decide to stay with Starbucks or not.”

The program, which was announced at the New York Partner Family Forum, is focused on college completion because almost half of college students drop out before graduating.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also attended the Forum and made the case for education:

 “We used to lead the world in college graduation rates. We used to be number one, today we’re 12th. That’s not something any of us are proud of.”

According to the Starbucks website, 70% of the company’s employees are either students or aspiring students. Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed reports that many employees can’t finish their degree because of the prohibitive cost to do so.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz believes this program creates a win/win for both his employees and his company by developing a more educated workforce.

"This is about the future of our company. We can’t build a great company and we can’t build a great enduring country if we are constantly leaving people behind. So this is an opportunity for the conscience of Starbucks to come through.”

Secretary Duncan concluded by saying,

“We’re now in a knowledge-based economy, a global economy, and the high-skill jobs are going to the countries with the best educated workforce. We all desperately want that to be here in the United States.”

This partnership represents another example of how employers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and invested in their efforts to partner with higher education to produce a more competitive workforce. 

Later this year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation will profile leading examples among employers who are working collaboratively in new and innovative ways with education and workforce partners to develop a demand-driven talent pipeline that begins to close the skills gap.