American coffee giant Starbucks has announced that it will launch a massive program to assist its employees in dealing with the expenses of continuing education. On Monday June 16, 2014, in a joint press conference, Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz, Arizona State University (ASU) president Michael Crow and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the launching of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. Under the plan, Starbucks will offer generous tuition reimbursement and access to substantial scholarships to its employees. Any employee of Starbucks, or any of its subsidiary companies, who works at least 20 hours a week will be eligible to participate in the program. Subsidiary companies of Starbucks include Teavana, La Boulange, Evolution Fresh and Seattle’s Best Coffee.
Employees participating in the program will receive financial assistance to enroll in any of ASU’s online degree programs. Those enrolling as juniors or seniors will receive full tuition reimbursement, while those enrolling as freshman or sophomores will be eligible to apply for scholarships that average in value at $6500. Upon enrollment, students will have access to ASU advisors to assist them in acquiring further financial aid on an as needed basis. The company estimates that approximately 70 percent of its employees are either currently enrolled students or have plans to enroll in the near future.
According to Starbucks spokeswoman Laurel Harper, the total cost to the company will not be known until it is seen how many employees will participate in the program. Enrollment in the program will begin on August 15, 2014 and online classes will commence on October 15, 2014. Students will not be asked to repay any of the funding, nor will they be required to continue their employment with Starbucks after graduating. ASU currently provides course offerings in more than 30 undergraduate degree programs through its department of online education.
Schultz spoke of “rebuilding the American Dream” for Starbucks’ “partners” as the company refers to its employees. He believes that a college degree is a necessary component of success in the contemporary economy, and states that many people are left behind by prohibitive educational costs. He refers to the program as an “investment in human capital,” and predicts that it will benefit the company in ways that cannot yet be calculated. The cost per beneficiary to be incurred by Starbucks has been estimated at $30 thousand.
This is not the first time Starbucks has shown initiative when it comes to investing in the welfare of its employees. In 1991, the company launched its profit sharing program which resulted in a disbursement of around $234 million in employee benefits. Harper alluded to the company’s ongoing commitment to a similar level of investment in the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.