Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced Monday the worldwide coffee conglomerate is partnering with Arizona State University to offer its employees free or reduced tuition for online education courses.
The program would allow employees entering the ASU online program as a junior or senior to earn full tuition reimbursement for each semester of full-time coursework they complete toward a bachelor's degree.
Meanwhile, if the student is entering as a freshman or sophomore, he or she will be eligible for a partial tuition scholarship and need-based financial aid for two years of full-time study.
Close to 70% of Starbucks 135,000 U.S. employees are eligible for the program Schultz said in New York, introducing the Starbucks College Achievement Plan with ASU President Michael Crow and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Employees who enter the program must work at least 20 hours a week but are not required to stay with the company after completing the degree.
Schultz said the program is essential because 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?"
Starbucks spokeswoman Jaime Lynn Riley said ASU was the natural choice to partner with Starbucks in its higher education initiative because ASU's "mission, values and brand are a good match to our own."
The program looks to be a considerable cost to the company in what will be deemed an "investment in Human Capital," but the full extent of that cost is not known yet.
"Starbucks' total investment in the program won't be known until the company sees how many students sign up," Starbucks spokeswoman Laurel Harper told the Wall Street Journal.
When asked if Starbucks planned to expand its education program to its large number of international employees, Riley stated," At this time, there are no formal plans to expand the program outside of the U.S. or beyond ASU, [but] Starbucks hopes to innovate in this space to meet the various needs of its global partner family."
Starbucks has a history of looking out for its employees -- CEO Schultz backed an increase in minimum wage in April even if it costs the company.
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