Starbucks is partnering with Arizona State University to help its baristas earn an online college degree. The program, which aims to address high college dropout rates, will be available to 135,000 U.S. employees who work at least 20 hours per week. Baristas will have a number of programs from which to choose, and the company does not require that they stay at Starbucks after graduating.
Freshmen and sophomores will pay a greatly reduced tuition after Starbucks and ASU’s scholarships, Pell Grants, and financial aid are factored in. For juniors and seniors, Starbucks will reimburse any money these upwardly-mobile baristas pay out of pocket. Students who have already completed two years of college will be able to finish school with no out of pocket cost.
This program will replace Starbucks’ current program, which reimburses workers for up to $1,000 a year at City University of Seattle or Strayer University. Starbucks spokeswoman Laurel Harper says that the new partnership will be far more generous for its baristas.
Starbucks, while it is not the most generous company pay-wise, with an average worker salary of $9 per hour, offers a comprehensive benefits package to employees, including stock options, a 401(K), paid vacation time, medical, vision and dental–and employees are offered free coffee once a week as well as a 30% discount, which will help workers stay awake to study.
Tuition reimbursement–especially of this magnitude–is a rarity for low-wage workers. It is refreshing to see some companies waking up to the fact that their workers’ happiness is important.