Starbucks Is—Mostly—Paying for 1,000 Employees to Go to College

Starbucks got lots of attention when it announced in June that it would pay for its employees to complete their bachelor’s degrees online at Arizona State University. Now the program is starting to take shape. The first 1,000 workers accepted to the university will start classes next week. What are they studying? Not art history. The most popular majors, Starbucks said, are psychology, organizational leadership, health sciences, mass communications, and English. Yes, English. There’s some hope for the liberal arts.

About half the employees enrolled are baristas. Thirty-five percent are shift supervisors, and the rest hold jobs as assistant store managers or higher up the corporate ladder, according to Starbucks. Seventy percent of them have already completed some college work and are signed up as juniors or seniors.

Starbucks has about 135,000 U.S. store employees, 25 percent of whom already have a bachelor’s degree. Of the 100,000 or so who don’t, 4,000 started the application process at ASU; 2,000 completed it. Of those, 1,800 were accepted by the school. Those not starting this term will likely start next. Most of the workers who applied were from California, Washington, Arizona, Texas, Florida, or Illinois.

Starbucks isn’t sure yet how much it will end up paying for these first students. Employees must complete 21 credit hours before the company reimburses their full tuition, which could be about $15,000 a year. Workers just starting out at ASU will pay reduced fees thanks to a discount from the university. The Starbucks students could also qualify for financial aid. Over time, Starbucks said it expects to spend tens of millions of dollars per year on tuition reimbursement.

The appeal to employees is clear—graduates of the ASU program don’t even have to stay at Starbucks. The most obvious upside for Starbucks: a bigger applicant pool and, by extension, more qualified workers. The company said it has seen a significant increase in job applications since it announced the program.

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