Starbucks employees will soon get more perks than a few free cups of coffee.
The world's largest coffee chain on Monday announced plans to partner with Arizona State University to offer online college tuition reimbursement to its 135,000 employees in the United States, more than 70 percent of whom are already students or are aspiring students. They'll also have access to an enrollment coach, a financial aid counselor and an academic adviser, the company said.
Through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, the company will pay full tuition for employees who already have two years of college credit, and partially reimburse those who would enter as freshmen or sophomores. The employees must also work at least 20 hours and meet the criteria to be admitted to ASU.
"In the last few years, we have seen the fracturing of the American dream. There’s no doubt, the inequality within the country has created a situation where many Americans are being left behind," said Howard Schultz, Starbucks chairman, president and CEO, in a statement. "Supporting our partners’ ambitions is the very best investment Starbucks can make. Everyone who works as hard as our partners do should have the opportunity to complete college, while balancing work, school and their personal lives."
Schultz, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and ASU President Michael Crow, will discuss the new initiative with 350 Starbucks employees and their families at the Times Center in New York City Monday morning.
The federal government and Democratic legislators have as of late been on a crusade against the high cost of college and increasing amounts of student loan debt college graduates take on. For the 2013-14 school year, the average tuition at a public four-year university was nearly $9,000 and just more than $30,000 at a private four-year university, according to the College Board. Nearly three-quarters of college seniors graduated with debt in 2012, which on average was $29,400.
In an effort to help relieve students and new graduates, President Barack Obama last week announced the expansion of the government's Pay As You Earn income-based repayment plan. Previously, borrowers with older loans were barred from the plan, which caps monthly payments at 10 percent of a borrower's monthly income and forgives remaining debt after 20 years.
Senate Democrats also pushed for a bill – spearheaded by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts – that would allow students to refinance their federal and private student loans at a lower interest rate. Although the bill failed on the floor, Democrats have said they plan to reintroduce the bill in the fall.
Proponents of online education have also been pushing the method as a way to cut down on the cost of college. For working adults or those with families to support, online education may seem like a more manageable way to earn a degree.
ASU offers a fairly extensive online degree program, with 40 different majors to choose from. The average undergraduate tuition ranges from $480 to $543 per credit. For a student taking three, three-credit courses, the cost would fall between $4,320 and $4,887 per seven-and-a-half week session.
“I was put here to play music, and my goal is to change someone’s life – at least one," said Starbucks barista Abraham Cervantes, in a statement. "I want to teach at a university, and for that, you need a college degree. For me, the opportunity to earn my degree means I have the chance to teach others and make a better life for myself and my mom who raised me and my three siblings on her own."