Barista to college grad? Starbucks now covers 4 years of college tuition.

Starbucks announced it will cover four years of tuition for any of Arizona State University's online degree programs. Starbucks' announcement comes as unemployment rates are declining, pushing companies to create more appealing employment opportunities than their competition.

Ted S. Warren/AP/File
Starbucks on Monday, April 6, 2015, said its workers can now have four years of tuition covered for an online college degree from Arizona State University instead of just two.

Starbucks is upping its game in the perks department. The Seattle-based coffee chain has announced that it will now cover four years of college tuition reimbursement for employees.

Last June, the company started its Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which allowed juniors and seniors two years of tuition reimbursement to earn an online degree from Arizona State University in any of its 49 degree programs. Since the program was initiated, 2,000 of Starbucks’ more than 140,000 workers have enrolled.

The announcement comes at a time when unemployment rates are declining, pushing companies to create more appealing employment opportunities than their competition.

Do such incentives signal a more employee-friendly job economy in the future?

Starbucks is committed to producing at least 25,000 graduates by 2025, an investment they estimate will reach up to $250 million. Workers who average at least 20 hours a week are eligible for the program, which is only open to employees at company-owned stores.

Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks, said tuition reimbursement is one way the company can continue to invest in its workforce in a way that aligns with their mission.

“Everyone deserves a chance at the American dream,” Mr. Schultz said in a press release. “The unfortunate reality is that too many Americans can no longer afford a college degree, particularly disadvantaged young people, and others are saddled with burdensome education debt. By giving our partners access to four years of full tuition coverage, we will provide them a critical tool for lifelong opportunity. We're stronger as a nation when everyone is afforded a pathway to success.”

When the program launched in June 2014, it also ended the company’s previous college assistance program, which enabled employees to attend any accredited university or college that fit their needs. Students were given between $500 and $1,000 per calendar year to pursue degrees that “directly prepare [them] for a job at Starbucks.” Critics argue that while the financial gain may have been less, it was a better fit for Starbucks’ employees, who fit into the demographic that are more likely to succeed in classroom setting than in online coursework.

Dr. Siva Vaidhyanathan, the Robertson Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, told Think Progress:

So far we know that online degree programs do the worst possible job with adults of low income who are working full-time. That’s the segment of society that tends to do worse online and better in person . . . It seems to me to be a huge scam that Starbucks is running here in conjunction with ASU, because the idea here is to make both brands shine here in the public mind . . . But in fact this is nothing close to anything helpful.

Starbucks has a low employee turnover rate for the food industry, but overall industry rates for turnover are high. Offering incentives that are appealing to its employees—70 percent of which are either college students or hoping to receive a college degree—could help reduce turnover costs, estimated at $3,000 per employee. The program does not require employees to stay at Starbucks post-graduation, but it could keep them there for up to four years. The Economist published a paper exploring the challenges of human resources departments in attracting a workforce as the job market continues to grow.

“As the demographic composition of the workforce changes, their motivations and expectations evolve too,” reported The Economist in a paper exploring the challenges of human resources departments in attracting a workforce as the job market continues to grow. “It is not enough simply to recruit able staff. Companies have to make sure that their people are committed, productive, and do not leave after a short period, incurring substantial turnover costs and wasting all previous training invested in them.”

College tuition reimbursement is an attractive perk for any employee looking to earn a college degree. According to USA Today, college tuition costs increased by 3 percent last year, averaging over $9,000 per year at an in-state public school. Private schools averaged over $30,000, resulting in serious student loan debt across the country. PBS has reported the U.S. has $1.2 trillion in student debt, averaging about $30,000 in debt per student who graduates.

This article contains reporting from the Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to