Starbucks Signs Up 1,800 for College Education Plan

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In what is a modest start to the Starbuck Corp.’s (NASDAQ: SBUX) program to pay college tuition for its “partners,” 1,800 have signed up for the coffee company’s joint venture with Arizona State University. The program is a month old.

In an announcement, company management wrote:

“These impressive numbers reflect that the students recognize how a college degree can dramatically elevate the possibilities for their income and quality of life,” said ASU Provost Robert E. Page Jr. “The surge of applications also reflects that today’s students are adaptive learners for whom technology and innovative learning techniques enhance their capacity for knowledge.”

For some reason, Starbucks has a different description for workers who have “enrolled” in the venture:

More than 2,200 partners have enrolled in the Starbucks College Achievement Plan to date, with 200 Starbucks partners expected to graduate from the program over the next year.

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According to the Starbucks press release that proved more detail:

Partners from every state have applied — with California, Washington, Arizona and Texas having the highest partner participation. The top degrees Starbucks partners are pursuing through the plan are psychology, organizational leadership, and health sciences.

The plan is generous. It covers four years of tuition. Starbucks employees do not have to remain with the company when they are done, which is a risk to the coffee company. College graduates many not want to sell coffee to lines of customers who give them less than modest tips. Starbucks pays it employees notoriously low wages. However, the tuition plan will save employees who want to participate more than they probably can afford, at least in terms of the financial burden of the education it will provide. In contrast to non-Starbucks students who will graduate college this year:

Nationwide, other members of the class of 2015 will each graduate with $35,051 in student debt on average, according to an analysis of government data by Edvisors — a company that provides information to parents and students about college costs and financial aid. The 2015 figure is about $2,000 more than students who graduated last year.

Although Starbucks has no way to make accurate forecasts, it has estimated the future participation in the plan:

Starbucks will invest $250 million to help at least 25,000 partners graduate by 2025.

The early participation is modest, but enough to make that guess believable.

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