Starbucks has recently announced a plan to help pay for its employees to receive a college education from Arizona State University. Why? According to Michael Crow, president of ASU online degree program, they are hoping to close the gap between those who can access education, and those who can’t. “The idea is to break this downward cycle of class-based education,” he explains.
The Starbucks College Achievement Plan will be available to employees who work at least 20 hours each week, and who have the grades and test scores to get accepted to ASU. Tuition is free for juniors and seniors, and comes with at least a 50% reimbursement for freshman and sophomores working toward their Bachelors Degree. About 135,000 employees would currently be eligible for the program based on employment hours.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is similarly concerned about challenging the assumption that a for-profit company should only work in its own best interests and bottom line. “The only way to provide long-term value for shareholders is to create long-term value for people,” he says.
The Wall Street Journal, however, is ready to throw a bit of skepticism into the mix regarding the paired offering Starbucks and ASU are presenting, saying that there is a “Venti problem” with the achievement plan. They note that, while about 70% of Starbucks’ workforce is comprised of students or aspiring students, it also has a fair number of graduates as well. They also bring attention to the fact that online courses often have a comparatively low retention and completion rate.
Overall, though, the program is likely to be a positive one for many students who would have trouble affording school otherwise. Though it might be a more limited range of options, “Commit to Starbucks for four years while you complete your course work and you could be left with a very small bill for a 4 year degree,” Demetrios Sourmaidis, the Chief Financial Officer at StudentDebtRelief, points out. This could be a very tempting and handy option for students who, if they graduate without free tuition, will be left dealing with an average debt of $29,000 or more.