Most Starbucks Employees Getting College Assistance Want Business Degrees

Starbucks will help its employees pay for an online education from Arizona State University, the company announced Monday. ASU’s business school has scrambled to expand its online curriculum to meet the needs of the coffee company’s aspiring managers.

Arizona State’s W.P. Carey School of Business will begin to offer an online bachelor of arts in business with a concentration in retail management this fall. The degree was introduced specifically, but not exclusively, for Starbucks employees, says Amy Hillman, Carey’s dean. The school will also develop online versions of its business programs in global logistics, global leadership, and sustainability to meet Starbucks employee demand, she says.

Hillman says the majority of Starbucks employees told the company in surveys and focus groups that they would want to major in business. The corporate initiative will likely add thousands of baristas and other Starbucks employees to W.P. Carey’s already expansive 10,619-student population.

Starbucks will pay college tuition for most employees’ final two years and partially subsidize the first two years for ASU’s online degree programs. Students get the education reimbursement whether or not they keep working at Starbucks, which sets Starbucks apart from many companies that offer tuition benefits only if employees stay with the company for a specified length of time. “They’re really being a forerunner in [corporate-sponsored education] in an industry that doesn’t have the typical perks,” Hillman says.

Hillman says the school will help employees develop business skills before they move on to more senior jobs within the company or jump to other organizations. In the new retail management concentration, students will learn about such topics as brand integrity, customer service, and managing inventory, according to a program description provided to Bloomberg Businessweek.

About 8 percent of ASU undergraduates were pursuing their degree completely online in the fall of 2012, or 4,992 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Adding the expected 15,000 Starbucks employees to the rolls will quadruple the number of students getting an online bachelor’s at a school that’s already the largest public university in the country.

Roughly half of ASU’s students are taking at least one class online, according to Education Department data. The university has become a model for “the next generation university,” according to a New America Foundation report last year that praised the Tempe (Ariz.) school’s ability to provide broad college access without sacrificing quality or admissions standards.

To meet potential student demand, Hillman says the school has already been hiring professors and lecturers for the program. That has required a hefty investment by the school, tempering the potential financial upside. “This will definitely grow enrollment, and with enrollment comes increased revenue from tuition, but it also has resource implications,” she says. “It won’t be a particular boon to us financially.”

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