The announcement on June 16, 2014 by Starbucks Corp. CEO, Howard Schultz, of an initiative by Starbucks to help upwards of 135,000 Starbucks employees gain a college degree has resulted in a renewed focus on online education opportunities for lower wage workers. Starbucks, in collaboration with Arizona State University (ASU), will offer baristas the opportunity to earn their college degree online beginning this fall.
For employees who work at least 20 hours a week, Starbucks will offer tuition reimbursement of up to $3,000 a year for the freshman and sophomore years, and then full tuition reimbursement for the junior and senior years. ASU, which has added more than 50 additional staff to support the Starbucks program, will offer Starbuck employees admitted as freshmen and sophomores access to special tuition scholarship fund and need-based financial aid. Students will also be eligible to apply for federal Pell grants. It is estimated that this new initiative will enable up to 20,000 Starbucks employees a year to enroll in an online degree program at ASU and earn their college diploma. Unique to the program is that Starbucks does not require employees to remain with the company after graduation. http://online.wsj.com/articles/starbucks-to-subsidize-workers-online-degrees-1402876800
Tuition reimbursement, while not unheard of for low-wage workers, is still newsworthy. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., in partnership with American Public University (APU), announced a program back in 2010 that gives its employees partial tuition reimbursement leading to a college degree in a wide variety of fields. Like the just announced Starbucks program, Wal-Mart does not require employees to stay with Wal-Mart after graduation. In the 2010 announcement, the world’s largest retailer noted that it had surveyed 32,000 employees and found that 72% preferred the flexibility of an online college program. Wal-Mart committed up to $50 million to provide tuition assistance to its 1.4 million U.S. employees. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748703340904575285081013805728
American Public University offers more than 190 academic programs through its online degree program, including Associate, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degrees. APU, with over 100,000 distant learners studying in all 50 states, is widely recognized as one of the leaders in online education programs in the U.S. http://www.amu.apus.edu/difference/index.htm / http://www.apus.edu/about-us/facts.htm?_ga=1.214176981.33993299
The Starbucks program began taking shape in mid-2013 when ASU President Michael Crow initiated discussion with the Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, about how American companies could help its employees earn college degrees through ASU’s offering of online programs. A key factor was the increased flexibility that distant education will offer Starbuck employees as compared to the more traditional on-campus program. http://online.wsj.com/articles/starbucks-to-subsidize-workers-online-degrees-1402876800
Arizona State University, located in Tempe, AZ, has been building an increasingly solid reputation for its online education program with nearly 11,000 students enrolled prior to the Starbucks announcement. ASU’s reputation for excellence in online education was recently recognized by U.S. News & World Reports in their annual education issue by having its online bachelor-degree ranked in the top 10 in the U.S., and was the only school in the PAC-12 so named. https://asunews.asu.edu/20140108-online-rankings-2014
ASU is the largest public university in the United States offering over 600 programs from undergraduate through post-doctoral degrees to 76,000 students. https://asunews.asu.edu/20130822-ASU-record-students . An increasing number of these programs are offered 100% online and lead to degrees. ASU online students experience the same quality instruction as on-campus students, with full access to ASU’s internationally recognized faculty, full access to ASU’s eight libraries, and membership in a community of students and alumni. https://www.cappex.com/colleges/Arizona-State-University-Online
While Starbucks has garnered the most focus in recent days, another much smaller Seattle business has long attracted attention for its innovative program of providing tuition reimbursement for its low wage employees. At Dick’s Drive-In, employees who have worked for the restaurant chain for at least six months are eligible for a scholarship program that offers up to $22,000 over four years. Employees receive up to $3,000 a year for their first two years of study, followed by an increase to $8,000 for the last two years of college. The only requirement is that student employee participants must continue to work at least 20 hours a week at Dick’s during the school year. http://www.ddir.com/scholarship
UPS’s Earn and Learn program offers on-campus and online educational resources for UPS drivers and employees. UPS workers in 90 locations across the U.S., including part-time employees, are eligible for educational support of $3,000 per year, and up to $15,000 in lifetime education benefits. For part-time management employees, the benefits are increased to $4,000 a year, with a $20,000 lifetime maximum. http://www.responsibility.ups.com/Education/Employee+Education
UPS has developed both a specialized on-campus program and an online program to provide maximum flexibility for its employees. UPS has collaborated with Thomas Edison State College, based in Trenton, NJ to offer UPS employees college degrees in more than 100 areas of study. Thomas Edison currently provides its online courses to more than 28,000 students in every state in the United States and more than 60 countries around the world. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Edison_State_College
The recent Starbucks announcement strongly reinforces the future of online education in the U.S., which continues to show strong growth as it continues to develop increasingly innovative programs that are making a college education more accessible for a larger number of people by offering greater flexibility in location and hours.
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