Star­bucks to ex­pand its col­lege tu­ition pro­gram


Star­bucks says its work­ers can now have four years of tu­ition cov­ered for an on­line col­lege de­gree from Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity in­stead of just two, mark­ing the lat­est sign that com­pa­nies are re­think­ing their treat­ment of low-wage work­ers.

The Seat­tle-based cof­fee chain says the de­ci­sion is part of its com­mit­ment to “re­de­fine the role and re­spon­si­bil­ity of a public com­pany.”

The ex­pan­sion of the pro­gram comes as em­ploy­ers in­creas­ingly seek to win fa­vor with cus­tomers by cul­ti­vat­ing their images for be­ing so­cially re­spon­si­ble. Last week, McDon­ald’s also an­nounced it was ex­pand­ing a col­lege tu­ition as­sis­tance pro­gram to work­ers at its more than 14,300 U.S. stores. At its com­pany-owned stores, McDon­ald’s said work­ers would get a pay bump and be able to earn paid time off as well. Among the other ma­jor em­ploy­ers that have an­nounced wage hikes re­cently are Wal-Mart Stores and Gap Inc.

“Peo­ple un­der­stand the glar­ing dif­fer­ences be­tween those at the top, and work­ers who aren’t mak­ing that much,” said Tsed­eye Ge­bre­se­lassie, a staff at­tor­ney at the Na­tional Em­ploy­ment Law Project, which gets fund­ing from unions and has sup­ported the protests for pay of US$15 an hour and union­iza­tion for lowwage work­ers.

Al­ready, Star­bucks is known for of­fer­ing work­ers health care cov­er­age and com­pany stock, which are con­sid­ered un­usual benefits in the re­tail and fast- food in­dus­try. And Star­bucks CEO Howard Schultz said the cof­fee chain’s ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram is help­ing build cus­tomer loy­alty as well. “Con­sumers want to choose those com­pa­nies that have like-minded val­ues as them,” he said.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Schultz said Star­bucks is fight­ing to “at­tract and re­tain great peo­ple,” and that work­ers have higher ex­pec­ta­tions from em­ploy­ers.

“The benefits of yes­ter­day may not be as rel­e­vant to­day,” he said.

The tu­ition pro­gram is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Star­bucks and Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity, which charges roughly US$30,000 for two years of its on­line de­gree pro­gram. With­out pro­vid­ing de­tails, Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent Michael Crow said the school will “more than break even” with the tu­ition it col­lects for Star­bucks work­ers. He said that money will be rein­vested into ex­pand­ing ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties.

As part of the agree­ment with Star­bucks, ASU is pro­vid­ing an up­front dis­count or schol­ar­ship of about 42 per­cent of the stan­dard tu­ition for el­i­gi­ble work­ers at the chain’s com­pany-owned U. S. stores. That means Star­bucks would be re­spon­si­ble for up to 58 per­cent.

The amount Star­bucks pays stands to be less, how­ever, since many work­ers are ex­pected to qual­ify for fed­eral Pell grants and other aid as a re­sult of their limited in­comes. Work­ers would pay what­ever costs are left­over, and Star­bucks would re­im­burse them at the end of each se­mes­ter.

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