Starbucks announced its plan Monday to provide free online college courses to its employees through Arizona State University.
"The last few years in America we certainly have seen a fracturing of what I would loosely describe as the American dream or the American promise," Howard Schultz, president and CEO of Starbucks, said in a video the company released. "There is no doubt the inequality within the country has created a situation where many, many Americans have been left behind. The question I think for all of us is should we accept that or should we do something about it?"
The program Starbucks announced stands apart from other corporations that provide similar programs, such as tuition reimbursement, due to its open nature.
"Many employers offer tuition reimbursement. But those programs usually come with limitations like the full cost not being paid, new employees being excluded, requiring that workers stay for years afterward, or limiting reimbursement to work-related courses," The New York Times reported.
Starbucks only requires its employees to work 20 hours a week to qualify, regardless of how long they've worked with the company.
Students beginning as freshmen in the program will see a greatly reduced tuition cost for their four-year degree, whereas juniors and seniors will likely receive their last one to two years completely free.
"The Seattle company doesn't know how many of its workers will apply, and it isn't saying how much the program might cost," the Associated Press reported. "Tuition for an online degree at ASU is about $10,000 a year. Many Starbucks workers would likely qualify for a Pell grant, which can be worth as much as $5,730."
Schultz made the announcement at the Times Center in New York accompanied by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and 340 Starbucks employees with their families.
"We can't be a bystander and we can't wait for Washington," Schultz said. "And I strongly believe that businesses and business leaders must do more for their people and more for the communities we serve. Maybe in many ways this is what we were supposed to do to begin with. To serve our people as well as our customers."
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