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Starbucks to provide free college education for thousands of workers


New York -- Starbucks Corp. is launching an innovative program in partnership with Arizona State University (ASU) whereby the coffee giant will help pay for the cost of an online degree for its part-time and full-time associates who work at least 20 hours a week. In a twist from the standard tuition reimbursement program, Starbucks employees who participate in the program will not be obligated to stay on with the company after graduation.

“There's no doubt, the inequality within the country has created a situation where many Americans are being left behind,” said Starbucks founder, chairman and CEO Howard Schultz. “The question for all of us is, should we accept that, or should we try and do something about it. Supporting our partners' ambitions is the very best investment Starbucks can make.”

Under the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, Starbucks workers admitted to ASU as a junior or senior will earn full tuition reimbursement for each semester of full-time coursework they complete toward a bachelor’s degree. Freshmen and sophomores will be eligible for a partial tuition scholarship and need-based financial aid for two years of full-time study. The workers can choose from about 40 programs, including engineering, retail management, nursing and business.

Schultz announced the program Monday in New York City, with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, ASU president Michael Crow and about 340 Starbucks workers and family members in attendance. One of the retail industry’s most outspoken executives, Schultz grew up in public housing in Brooklyn, New York, and was the first in his family to attend college.

“Starbucks is going where no other major corporation has gone,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, a group focused on education. “For many of these Starbucks employees, an online university education is the only reasonable way they’re going to get a Bachelor’s degree.”

In addition to financial support, Starbucks and ASU have developed a program to support the needs of working students. Partners will have a dedicated enrollment coach, financial aid counselor and academic advisor to support them through graduation. The program also will include adaptive learning services to help students progress at the right pace for them, networking and community-building opportunities and additional resources to help students plan their educations.

Arizona State University has one of the largest and most widely regarded online degree programs in the United States, and has become a leader among public universities in a field traditionally dominated by for-profits schools. Tuition for an online degree at ASU is about $10,000 a year, roughly the same for its traditional on-site educational programs.

Enrollment in the program begins Aug.15, and students can start online classes Oct.15.

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