Starbucks leader aims to fix American Dream with degrees venture

16 June 2014 -


Blockbusting coffee chain will fund US employees to take qualifications from Arizona State University, in wide-ranging and detailed educational offering

Starbucks is set to offer its US employees full tuition reimbursement towards completing online bachelor’s degrees, as boss Howard Schulz attempts to restore hope in the American Dream for thousands. Due for its official launch today, the Starbucks College Achievement Plan will be managed through a collaboration between the chain and Arizona State University (ASU) – one of the largest providers of online degree programmes in the US.

American staffers working an average of 20 hours per week at any Starbucks-operated branch – including those within subsidiary chains Teavana, La Boulange, Evolution Fresh and Seattle’s Best Coffee – will be able to choose their courses from more than 40 undergraduate curricula, including subjects such as education and retail management.

While employees who decide to join ASU as a junior or senior will receive full tuition reimbursement for each semester of coursework, they will not have to stay at Starbucks following graduation. Furthermore, the scheme outlines different amounts of tuition support for part-time and full-time staff. For example, first- and second-year students will be eligible for a partial tuition scholarship and needs-based financial aid for two years of full-time study.

Dedicated enrolment coaches, financial aid counsellors and academic advisers will also be on hand to assist students, particularly when they have any problems juggling work and study. Interestingly, the scheme includes adaptive-learning services, which will help to ensure that students progress at the right pace to plan and meet their educational goals.

As Schultz explains, the drive behind this opportunity for Starbucks’ employees – or “partners”, as he prefers to call them, “comes from his desire to restore opportunities for less-fortunate Americans. “In the last few years,” he said, “we have seen the fracturing of the American Dream. There’s no doubt – the inequality within the country has created a situation where many Americans are being left behind. The question for all of us is, should we accept that, or should we try and do something about it.”

He added: “Supporting our partners’ ambitions is the very best investment Starbucks can make. Everyone who works as hard as our partners do should have the opportunity to complete college, while balancing work, school and their personal lives.”

Recalling his own challenges growing up as the son of a low-paid delivery driver in the New York “projects” – in other words, run down and federally-subsidised apartments – Schultz said: “In those days you were dismissed from a job if you were injured. We didn’t have health care and very little money to get by; my father never made more than $20,000 a year. What followed was an unbelievable fracturing of my parents’ hopes and dreams, and in many ways the promise of America.”

Meanwhile, ASU president Michael M Crow said: “We are very pleased to collaborate with Starbucks, which has impressed us with its strong commitment to its employees by providing this unique opportunity for a first-class college education. ASU has the vision, programmes and scale to deliver [the scheme] to Starbucks employees in every part of the country.”

Find out more about Starbucks’ initiative at the official company website.

For further details on the relationship between managers and students, see CMI’s latest research 21st Century Leaders: Building practice into the curriculum to boost employability.

Image of Starbucks coffee cup with textbooks in the background courtesy of Hattanas Kumchai / Shutterstock


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