Starbucks gifts employees the college experience

Rebekah Devorak | Asst. Opinions Editor 

Listen up baristas: Starbucks’ new College Achievement Plan could have you trading up your green apron and frapppucino skills for a graduation cap and a diploma.

The specialty coffee powerhouse announced on April 6 that it would extend its College Achievement Plan to cover a four year online degree at Arizona State University, tuition free. Previously, only juniors and seniors wishing to complete a degree were eligible to take part.

According to the company’s website, over 140,000 full- and part-time employees are eligible for the Plan, and over 2,000 have already applied. While those taking advantage of the program must work at least 20 hours per week during their education, employees are not required to stay with Starbucks for any amount of time after they graduate.

This is a monumental move for Starbucks, who will be shelling out at least $250 million over the next ten years, according to Forbes. But, it’s one that certainly raises the bar for other companies in the fast-food and retail industry.

Starbucks accomplishes two major goals with the extension of its college program: It offers hope and genuine care for its employees, and it fosters good will within its customer base.

Imagine being a full- or part-time worker at a fast-food restaurant, which is a common scenario many have experienced. The average Starbucks barista makes $9.51 per hour, according to Glassdoor. Even with the recent wage hike, McDonald’s employees make even less. CollegeBoard reported that the average 2014-2015 university cost for tuition with room and board was anywhere between $18,945 to $42,419, depending on the type of school. Four years, without taking any tuition increase into consideration, would be between $75,772 to $169,676. Add in other fees such as books and you are looking at one long road of latte making to cover the costs.

While student loans, grants and scholarships are viable options, sometimes they just aren’t enough. With average student loan debt over $30,000 according to a study by The Institute for College Access and Success, Starbucks alleviates a tremendous financial pressure for those who utilize the program.

A slight pitfall, though, is that workers must pay tuition fees out of pocket first and then are reimbursed by Starbucks at the end of each semester. While the tuition is initially discounted 42 percent, the immediate front of costs could be a stumbling block for some lower-income workers with limited financial options.

Despite that, not only is this extension a savvy move for Starbucks’ humanitarian efforts, but it’s also an intelligent business move. Who doesn’t want to support a place that truly invests in the future of its employees, with a genuine intention to help them flourish? Not only that, USA Today states Starbucks’ College Achievement Plan will likely lead to happier, more dedicated workers which will no doubt benefit the company and the customer.

While some other businesses do offer similar programs (such as the Dream Manager plan at janitorial company JANCOA, which helps its employees achieve any personal goal), more should offer in depth educational assistance. There is no greater power for growth and opportunity in this world than education, and companies should take initiative to develop meaningful ways to make that happen. As for Starbucks, extending this beyond the United States could be the next step, offering access to education in underserved nations.

Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz once wrote that if he was ever in the position to better the lives of his employees, he promised to do it. By the looks of the College Achievement Plan, I’d say he’s a man of his word.