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Eye on Education

Starbucks Offers Baristas A Chance to Earn A Free College Education

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Ivana DiCarlo / FLICKR

Starbucks’ umbrella of coffee and tea shops offer their employees a handful of perks that are seemingly rare in the world of retail jobs, like stock options, health insurance, 401(k) matching, and free coffee every week.

And now there’s one more impressive addition to the list: a free college education, the New York Times reports.

Through a recently-formed partnership with Arizona State University, Starbucks employees will be able to take classes in one of ASU’s 40 online undergraduate programs. Seventy percent of Starbucks employees (or “partners”, as the company calls them) are current or aspiring students, the company says.

The Times points out that Starbucks isn’t the first company to offer tuition reimbursement, but other programs tend to have limitations, like steering employees into company-related courses, only offering partial reimbursement, or requiring workers stay on for years after they complete their classes.

But under Starbucks’ new College Achievement Plan, employees don’t have to enroll in strictly coffee-centered courses. Students aren’t limited to choosing a concentration that’s directly related to the company, and they can walk away at anytime.

“The Starbucks College Achievement Plan is part of the answer to the question ‘what is the role and responsibility of a public company,’” company CEO Howard Schultz said in an online statement. “And for me it demonstrates the heart and the conscience of Starbucks.”

Both part-time and full-time employees can enroll, provided they meet Arizona State’s admissions requirements.

One catch? Baristas who already have an undergraduate degree aren’t eligible. Seemingly, they’re zeroing in on employees who’ve started a college program but haven’t finished. The company will pay for workers who are already at a junior or senior level to finish their degrees, while underclassmen will be eligible for a partial scholarship, plus any need-based financial aid.

Employes will also have access to an educational support team, including a financial aid counselor, an enrollment coach, and an academic advisor.

To remain eligible, students will have to work at least 20 hours per week in addition to their ASU course load.

NPR reports that the program will come deliver a venti-sized pricetag to the company: several million dollars. Thousands of students are expected to enroll.

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