After President Barack Obama made news last week with an effort to help college graduates with student loan payments, this week someone else is stepping up to help prospective students with the cost of college. Starbucks today announced a new College Achievement Plan in conjunction with Arizona State University (ASU) that will assist Starbucks store employees with obtaining their bachelor's degree.
The program, open to both full-time and part-time store employees, will offer full tuition reimbursement for juniors and seniors who complete a year of coursework at ASU. Freshmen and sophomores will receive partial scholarships and need-based financial aid. And it isn't just limited to financial assistance. Employees will receive, according to Starbucks, "a personal level of support, custom-built for each [employee], including a dedicated enrollment coach, financial aid counselor and academic advisor." And once they complete their degree, employees are free to leave their Starbucks jobs in search of a better career opportunity.
Programs like this won't just help young people–an estimated 37 million Americans have received some college education but have no degree, and this gives them an opportunity to finally complete their education while working to support themselves. For Starbucks, which says that 70 percent of its store employees are either current or aspiring students, this provides both an incentive to attract new employees and the chance to build a more committed, better educated workforce. (Though it may not be enough to satisy Starbucks employees fighting for higher wages and full-time status.)
This type of program also isn't entirely new, as organizations like College for America have already been working with private employers to offer education benefits to employees. But it is certainly the type of initiative that our country needs more of: private employers making an effort to meet the needs of their workers and trying to promote the common good. If more employers get on board, they may have an opportunity to turn hourly wage jobs into a real stepping stone toward success. It is almost enough to justify the cost of a $4 cup of coffee.