College for baristas: Starbucks workers can get free four-year degree

Starbucks employees now eligible for four years of free online education through partnership with ASU

Starbucks employees can now earn a bachelor's degree for free in an expansion of the company's two-year tuition-free online education program through Arizona State University.

More than 140,000 full-time and part-time employees are eligible to enroll and will not be required to stay at Starbucks past graduation, the company said. Benefits-eligible employees at Starbucks-owned companies Teavana, La Boulange and Evolution Fresh can also enroll.

"By giving our partners access to four years of full tuition coverage, we will provide them a critical tool for lifelong opportunity," said Howard Schultz, chief executive of Starbucks.

The coffee company is no stranger to social responsibility initiatives.

In March, the company said it wanted to initiate conversations about race relations and began writing the words "Race Together" on coffee cups. That portion of the initiative is over, but Schultz said the company would continue to encourage “more open dialogue with police and community leaders” and expand “our store footprint in urban communities.”

Starbucks' tuition-benefit expansion comes as employers face pressure to improve wages and benefits in a tightening labor market. McDonald's, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. have all announced wage increases recently.

The Seattle-based coffee giant introduced its partnership with Arizona State in June. Almost 2,000 employees have enrolled, the company said.

Starbucks estimates it will spend about $250 million to help at least 25,000 employees graduate by 2025. The cost of ASU's online degree courses range from $480 to $543 per credit hour.

Employees in the program will receive an upfront scholarship from ASU that will cover about 42% of their tuition costs. Starbucks will reimburse the remaining amount not paid by any financial aid grants at the end of each semester.

Shares of Starbucks were up 11 cents, or 0.1%, to $94.63 in early trading Tuesday.

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