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Caffeine High(er Ed)
Free Online Degrees for Starbucks Baristas

Coffee gets a lot of people through college, but we never expected it would pay for school. We stand corrected: Starbucks announced today that it will provide its workers with online education free of charge. The company has arranged a partnership with Arizona State University, reports the NYT:

The program is open to any of the company’s 135,000 United States employees, provided they 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. […]

Starbucks has offered its workers other benefits rarely provided in the service industry, such as health insurance even for part-time employees and stock options. In addition, Starbucks is not attaching any strings to this program; students don’t have to stick around in their jobs after completing their degrees.

The company doesn’t need their baristas to have B.A.s, so what does it get out of the program aside from good publicity?

[…] Howard D. Schultz, the company’s chairman and chief executive, said in an interview. “I believe it will lower attrition, it’ll increase performance, it’ll attract and retain better people.”

We’d say that’s a smart tactic; students who are dedicated enough to finish a degree while working full or part time are likely to be responsible, diligent workers. Companies have long used loan forgiveness programs, or offered full or partial payment for further education, to attract workers. As online education becomes cheaper (especially with the development of MOOCs), we may see more employers in the service industry try this tack as well. That will only benefit the American workforce, especially as the economy demands greater flexibility, and the near-continuous acquisition of new skills.

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  • Andrew Allison

    All well-and-good, but hasn’t TAI been pointing out for a while now that the job market for graduates is less than rosy; and does a Barista really need a degree? Will the Barista who puts in the time and effort to earn an online degree and finds that he or she is no better off than before be suitably grateful to Starbucks?

  • Eric J.

    It’ll make sure the barristas feel less intimidated by their co-workers who have MFAs.

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