Barista has long been one of those dead-end jobs that parents threaten their kids with should they slack off in their education.
“You better study for that math test,” the stereotypical concerned parent might say, “or you’re going to end up slinging coffee at Starbucks for the rest of your days!”
But now with a new announcement from the Seattle-based coffee giant, selling grande lattes might not be the the end of a barista’s educational journey. The company just announced it will reimburse employees who earn an online degree. In partnership with the well regarded Arizona State University, Starbucks is offering free tuition to the university’s 33 undergraduate and about 30 graduate online programs with no obligation to pay back anything. (Click here to tweet this news.)
Who benefits from Starbuck’s new educational program?
There are a few caveats, but the deal remains pretty sweet no matter how you look at it. To be eligible, employees need to have the grades to qualify to attend Arizona State and must work 20 hours a week or more at a company-owned Starbucks (not a franchise location).
The company particularly rewards employees who have taken some classes already and are now going back to complete their degree; students who enroll as juniors or seniors get a free ride, while workers who have less than two years of college under their belt when they enroll are eligible for a partial tuition reimbursement of around $6,500. Starbucks advisors will help employees apply for PELL grants and other forms of financial assistance as well.
What could that be worth to an ambitious barista? Arizona State tuition runs about $10,000 a year, so for a Starbucks employee who enrolls as a junior and gets a free ride through graduation, that’s worth about $20,000.
Starbucks claims it’s making the heavy investment as an effort to fight inequality and develop its workforce. “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,” CEO Howard Schultz said in a release.
Starbucks’ workers may be the big winners of this new program, but the move is also a huge win for online education in general and Arizona State University in particular. “The company isn’t disclosing the financial terms of its agreement with Arizona State University. But the program could significantly boost the enrollment for Arizona State’s online program,” commented The Huffington Post, for instance.
What other employers will pay you to go to school?
Starbucks is far from the only big employer to offer to reimburse educational expenses, but it is one of the very few that doesn’t require employees to stick around after they complete their degrees. As InThe Capital’s Molly Greenberg notes, “this is an intriguing move made by Starbucks, as most large organizations that offer tuition reimbursement plans require their employees to stay on staff for a specified duration of time in order to also benefit from their workers’ degree.”
Who else might be willing to foot the bill for your degree? Business Insider helpfully rounded up 15 companies that provide some form of tuition assistance and details on the terms of their programs. Firms include Best Buy, Home Depot, UPS and Gap.
What do you think of Starbuck’s new educational program? Would you be more likely to work for a company that offering reimbursement for education?
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London. She writes a daily column for Inc.com, contributes regularly to Forbes and Women 2.0 and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch and GigaOM, among others.