Starbucks announces new program to help its baristas get online degrees

(WJLA) - Brewing coffee at Starbucks will soon earn more than a paycheck.

Employees will receive some help with their college tuition if they enroll in Arizona State University’s online program. The Seattle-based company has partnered with the university to offer employees a wide-range of educational programs that aren’t related to their Starbucks work.

“I would love to support a company that does something like that,” said Starbucks customer Karam Singh-Sethi.

Most of the company’s 135,000 U.S. employees are eligible for the program as long as they work at least 20 hours a week. The company does not require workers to stay at Starbucks after they earn their bachelor’s degrees.

“It’s gonna cost millions of dollars, but I don’t view it as a cost,” said Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks Corp. “It’s an investment and I am so confident that this investment is going to drive performance and enhance value for our shareholders.”

Schultz believes the benefit of what amounts to two years free tuition will lure quality employees. Right now, 70% of Starbucks employees lack college degrees. The company says it will phase out its existing tuition reimbursement program, which gave workers up to $1,000 a year for education at certain schools.

Some customers believe the benefit is probably good for Starbucks customers, too:

“It gets their name out there. And it makes people feel good about getting coffee I think,” said Julia Quinn, a Starbucks customer.

Freshmen and sophomores who enroll in the program will get a partial scholarship and need to apply for financial aid. Tuition for employees being admitted as juniors or seniors will be similar, except Starbucks will reimburse any money workers end up having to pay out of pocket, allowing them to get free tuition towards a bachelor’s degree.

Those already enrolled in college can transfer their credits to Arizona State University.

The program is available only to workers at Starbucks' 8,200 company-operated locations. Another 4,500 U.S. locations are operated by franchises.

The company says the program will also be available to workers at its other chains, including Teavana tea shops and Seattle's Best.