ASU, Starbucks partner to provide discounted online bachelor's degrees

Starbucks employees could receive full tuition reimbursement for their junior and senior years and partial financial aid for their freshman and sophomore years.

Starbucks and ASU announced a partnership Monday to provide tuition reimbursement for Starbucks employees who earn their bachelor’s degrees from ASU’s online programs.

Employees would not have to pay tuition for their junior and senior years at the University and would receive some aid for their freshman and sophomore years, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said.

"This is a monumental, historic moment in time for our company,” he said. “This above all else defines who we are as a company, what we believe in, and I think also the issues facing America."

Eligible employees work an average of 20 hours a week or more at Starbucks or its fellow company-operated stores, Teavana, La Boulange, Evolution Fresh and Seattle’s Best Coffee. They may have some college credit, but they don’t yet have bachelor’s degrees.

They’d choose from more than 40 online majors at ASU, including fields in engineering, education and business.

Those admitted as freshmen and sophomores can qualify for partial tuition scholarships and need-based financial aid. Juniors and seniors earn full reimbursement of tuition and fees.

Employees are also free to leave the company after graduation.

“You can leave,” Schultz said. “We don’t want you to leave. We want to attract and retain great people.”

Schultz told employees that he grew up in federally subsidized housing in Brooklyn and was able to attend school. It’s less likely that a child in his situation today would be able to make it to college, he said.

Starbucks has long provided employees, even part-time employees, with benefits like health insurance and stock options. Ensuring that employees at the company’s 21,000 stores can receive college educations is an extension of its ideals, Schultz said.

“Today’s announcement in many ways is threaded into the history of Starbucks,” he said. “... This is an opportunity for the conscience of Starbucks to come through.”

The company considered several universities before settling on ASU, Schultz said.

ASU president Michael Crow said the University is happy to partner with an innovator like Starbucks.

“We’re skeptical of everybody,” he said. “... We don’t have that skepticism about Starbucks. We know they are committed to you, the individual.”

The Starbucks College Achievement Plan fits in with Crow’s ideal of the New American University. ASU prides itself on providing a quality education to as many students as possible, he said.

“We will hold our graduates, online and immersion, person for person, pound for pound, against anyone,” Crow said.

Those born in the upper 25 percent of American families have an 80 percent chance of obtaining a college degree, while those in the bottom quartile have just a 9 percent chance, Crow said. ASU wants to change those odds.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who spoke at ASU’s spring undergraduate commencement, said this partnership is a step on the way to ensuring that the U.S. keeps high-wage, high-skilled jobs.

“The dividing line is less around race and class than it is around educational opportunity,” he said.

ASU Online Dean Phil Regier said the University expects between 4,000 and 10,000 students in the first year, depending on how many meet admission criteria. The first students will come in the fall Session B, which starts in October.

The University has done a lot in the past several months to boost its technology processing and prepare for the influx of students, Regier said. This will help both online and on-campus students, he said.

"Online is one of those things that gets better the bigger it gets,” he said.

Approximately 3,000 Arizona Starbucks employees will be eligible for the program, but those who work at the campus locations aren't among them. ASU's Starbucks locations, like the rest of its food services, are licensed to Aramark, and employees there aren't considered Starbucks partners.

Duncan urged Starbucks employees entering the program to stay focused on their objectives.

“The goal is not to go to college or go back to college,” he said. “It’s to graduate and get that diploma.”

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