student life

Starbucks offers free education to US workers

The coffee company Starbucks has announced a programme due to give its workers in the United States an ability to complete a university degree online for free.

The coffee company Starbucks has announced a programme due to give its workers in the United States an ability to complete a university degree online for free. The partnership, announced in New York June 16 with Arizona State University, gives free tuition to employees who enrol in their third and fourth years, while first and second year students get half of their tuition covered in combination with university scholarships and grants from the US government.

‘Americans being left behind’

Starbucks, citing statistics from the US National Student Clearinghouse, says almost half of students in the US do not finish their degrees, either because of an increase in debt, a lack of support, or a difficult work-life balance. In a statement, the company’s chief executive, Howard Schultz, said access to higher education in the country had become increasingly fractured.

“In the last few years, we have seen the fracturing of the American Dream,” Schultz said. “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.”

The programme is open to the 135,000 employees of the US operations of the coffee company, based in Washington State, so long as they are working at least 20 hours a week and meet the admissions criteria to Arizona State, according to a report from the New York Times. Starbucks says more than 70 per cent of its employees are students or aspiring students.

A building platform

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the move by Starbucks was significant, in an economic age where a degree from a university had become a necessity. According to a report from the Seattle Times newspaper, without a university degree, Duncan said, “It’s hard to move, it’s hard to travel. Doors don’t open for you.”

The move is the first by a major company, in what will be seen as a boost for the overall economy of the country, as well as access to education. In an interview with The New York Times, Jamie Merisotis, the President and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, an organisation focused on education, said an online university education would be the only way for many of Starbucks’ employees to get a degree.

At the moment, there are no plans for any other programmes internationally. In an email to Kettle, Jaime Riley, a spokeswoman for Starbucks, said no formal plans were currently in place to expand the programme outside the US or outside of Arizona State. However, Riley said, the company valued the pursuit made for a quality education.

“We value our partners’ pursuit of education and the advantages that earning a college degree offers,” Riley said. “In keeping with our long-standing commitment to help partners achieve their college aspirations, we hope to innovate in this space to meet the various needs of our global partner family.”

Still, the move is being seen as a first in what is hoped to be seen as a boost in the long term for the overall growth for America’s economy and access to education, and while it is unclear how many employees will apply for this programme, it may likely serve as a model for companies worldwide, including in the UK, to base future initiatives on.

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