Starbucks Corp. is serving up a venti-sized portion of tuition assistance to its workers.
The Seattle coffee purveyor announced Monday that it will give about $6,500 a year in tuition reimbursement to employees who enroll in Arizona State University's online bachelor's degree programs. That would cover about half of tuition costs.
Starbucks will offer full reimbursement to workers in their junior and senior years, the company said in a statement.
The assistance is open to employees who work at least 20 hours a week at any company-operated store, regardless of how long they've been with the company.
Employees are not required to remain with the company after graduation.
Though many companies offer forms of tuition assistance, they often come with strings attached, such as requiring students to remain on the job for a number of years after getting their degrees.
Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz framed the initiative as helping employees at a time of increasing inequality in the U.S.
"In the last few years, we have seen the fracturing of the American Dream," Schultz said in the statement. "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?" he added.
Arizona State University offers more than 40 undergraduate degree programs. A year of online courses is priced at about $10,000.
Starbucks said it has worked with Arizona State to provide extra support to its college-going workers. That includes adding financial aid counselors and academic advisors to ASU.
ASU President Michael Crow told the Wall Street Journal that an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Starbucks employees will opt for the program.
Starbucks said it is also phasing out an existing program that covers tuition up to $1,000 a year for students attending City University of Seattle or Strayer University.
Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
1:39 p.m.: A previous version of the story said Starbucks employees who opt for the tuition reimbursement program are required to stay with the company after graduation. That is not a requirement.