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Starbucks Offers Free Tuition For Employees

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Often stereotyped as the destination for college graduates who can’t find more remunerative employment, Starbucks will offer thousands of its employees free tuition through a collaborative endeavor with Arizona State University, the company announced Monday.

The plan is available to any employee at Starbucks who works at least 20 hours per week. The program works by allowing juniors and seniors to enroll with an online educational program offered by ASU with a full tuition reimbursement from Starbucks. Those who enroll with ASU’s online programs as freshmen or sophomores will be eligible to apply for scholarships of up to $6,500. Employees will not be limited to particular majors or classes.

ASU’s online academic program is one of the nation’s most ambitious, with over 10,000 students and 40 majors. With online tuition typically totaling about $500 per credit, and 120 credits needed to graduate, Starbucks’ program could save students tens of thousands of dollars.

The company was eager to promote the new policy as driven by magnanimity rather than financial calculations

“From day one, we said, we’re gonna try to build a business that builds a fragile balance between profitability and social conscience,” said CEO Howard Schulz in the announcement.

The company’s joint web conference with ASU discussing the deal Monday morning was replete with references to the ideals of the American Revolution and old land-grand universities, as well as statistics on the country’s unbalanced academic outcomes. Students raised in high-income households, said ASU President Michael Crow, are vastly more likely to finish college than those from low-income households, an imbalance he attributed in part to greater worries about money. Starbucks said its new program would help offset this imbalance.

“We as a company want to do something that has not been done before, and that is create access to the American Dream,” Schulz said.

Crow had effusive praise for Starbucks in taking on the endeavor.

“Academics are natural-born skeptics… we’re skeptical of organizations that have, as their purpose, just the raising of profits that they can share with a few individuals. Very skeptical. We don’t have that skepticism about Starbucks,” Crow said.

Employees who use the program will not have to remain with Starbucks after graduating, Schulz said, though he expressed hope that many would do so and rise through the company.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was present at the plan’s announcement in New York City to lend the Obama administration’s endorsement. Duncan urged other companies to follow Starbucks’ lead.

“If you guys can lead by example, and I’m convinced you can, what does this mean for another 50, for another 100 or 150 companies across the country? What kind of example in leadership can Starbucks provide? Where are the other CEOs who have Howard’s heart and passion?” Duncan said.

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