How Starbucks is Changing Education Forever

When people usually think of Starbucks and education, one of two thoughts comes to mind: a) the seemingly overabundance of highly educated baristas working behind the counter, giving rise to the cliché of getting a PhD and finding the only job you can work is serving coffee, or b) their involvement in a partial tuition payment plan, where employees can get a tiny bit of money to pay for their education. Both images are about to be completely shattered with Starbucks' new education plan, where the company CEO, Howard Shultz, is determined to singlehandedly change higher education in America. His plan? Partner with Arizona State University and make university education free for his employees. There are more details, of course, but it really can be boiled down as simply as that.

Everything that's Wrong with Education Today

We've written countless times about how a degree is still worth it, even in today's fragile and recovering economy where jobs seem harder to get than ever before. College graduates end up earning more over their lifetimes than high school graduates, but the amount of debt they leave with, plus how long it takes to finish a four-year degree, makes that prospect seem dim and far away.

Add in the fact that a whopping 41% of college students never finish getting their degrees (according to the National Center for Education Statistics), and the landscape is filled with even more despair. It seems like the only thing colleges are interested in is raising their tuition rates so high, only really wealthy students can attend. Few people can say with a straight face that our higher education system is an enviable model in the world and needs little if any changing.


Starbucks' New Plan: Changing the Face of Education

For all benefits-eligible employees working under any spoke of the Starbucks umbrella (e.g. support centers, Teavana, La Boulange, Evolution Fresh, Seattle's Best Coffee) who don't have a bachelor's degree, they can take advantage of this new program. There are a few caveats, though, and they include the following:

1. Admission Requirements: Because Starbucks has only partnered with Arizona State University (for now?), you have to apply to ASU and ensure you meet their admissions criteria.

2. Freshmen/Sophomore versus Junior/Senior: If you're admitted to ASU as a freshman or sophomore, you'll get a partial scholarship and then need-based financial aid to help you out with the foundational work (fill out a FAFSA application), if you qualify. But if you're admitted as a junior or senior, you'll not only receive that same partial scholarship upfront, but you'll also get full tuition/mandatory fees reimbursement every time you successfully hit 21 credits.

3. Online Courses: There are 40+ undergrad degree programs you can choose to study at ASU, but you'll be doing online classes.

4. Out-of-Pocket Expenses: While Starbucks will cover your tuition and any mandatory fees associated with your classes, they won't foot the bill for other expenses, like your internet connection to take the classes, school supplies, or other "optional" expenses like that. They also distance themselves from any loans you may take out that you might use to cover these expenses.

5. Choice of School: For now (or maybe for the duration of the program, however long it lasts), Starbucks will only cover your tuition if you go to ASU.

The Verdict: A Solid Win All Around

While critics may label this program as a publicity stunt for both Starbucks and ASU (and it is, in a way), they can't deny students get immediate, tangible, and hassle-free results: their education is paid for. Another thing critics point to is the lack of choices when it comes to schools to study at, but there's a saying that counters their argument: don't look a gift horse in the mouth. ASU may not be a school on par with Harvard or Yale, but it still is a decent school and they're partnering up with a huge employer to make their classes free. And while the freeness of the program is relegated to online education, the benefit of this is Starbucks employees across the country can tap into the program, as opposed to just the small handful that live within driving or bussing distance.