Starbucks has announced that it expects to provide a free online college education through an arrangement with Arizona State University to thousands of its workers, without requiring that they remain with the company, The New York Times reported.
The program is open to any of the company’s 135,000 U.S. employees, who work at least 20 hours a week and have the grades and test scores to gain admission to Arizona State. For a barista with at least two years of college credit, the company will pay full tuition; for those with fewer credits it will pay part of the cost, but even for many of them, courses will be free, with government and university aid.
While many employers offer tuition reimbursement, such programs usually have limitations. For example, the full cost might not be paid, new employees might be excluded, courses might be limited to work related ones, or workers may be required to stay on for a number of years following their degree.
But Starbucks’ offer will be open even to new employees, who can study whatever they like, and they are free to leave whenever they like. But Starbucks executives aren’t worried about employees leaving the company once they have their degrees.
Even if they did, their experience “would be accreted to our brand, our reputation and our business,” Howard Schultz, the company’s chairman and chief executive, told the New York Times. “I believe it will lower attrition, it’ll increase performance, it’ll attract and retain better people.”
Starbucks has long stood out from its competitors, by providing employees—including those working part-time, with health insurance, and even gives its employees stock options.
Starbucks continues to be highly successful; its stock, which closed Friday at $74.69, has grown in value more than a hundredfold since it went public in 1992.
Arizona State has one of the largest online degree programs in the U.S., with 11,000 students and 40 undergraduate majors, and one of the most highly regarded.
Tuition for Arizona State’s online undergraduate courses is usually about $500 per credit, and it takes 120 credits to earn a bachelor’s degree.