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."