Starbucks Now Offering College Courses As A ‘Perc’

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is scheduled to announce Monday that he is partnering with Arizona State University to offer employees online courses at the university at a deeply discounted rate.

Schultz told Reuters that the coffee chain is partnering with the school to offer the option to 135,000 US employees who work at least 20 hours a week. The Seattle-based company says the new program will replace the one currently in place, which offered workers up to $1,000 a year for education at certain schools.

The whipped cream on the non-fat caramel frap is that the company will not require workers to stay with the Starbucks after they earn their degrees, and they can select from a wide range of educational programs that are not related to their Starbucks work.

Given today’s economy, tuition reimbursement is a rare benefit for low-wage workers. However, Starbucks is on a short list of very popular companies who see the benefit of empowering their workforce through education. In 2010, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. launched a partnership with American Public University, a for-profit online school, to give workers and family members partial tuition grants.

As with most matters involving financial aid, the terms of the new program are somewhat complicated, reported the New York Times.

For the freshmen and sophomore years, Starbucks and Arizona State say they will put $6,500 toward the estimated $20,000 in tuition. Starbucks won’t say if it’s paying Arizona State for any of that amount, or if the college is simply providing a discount for Starbucks workers as part of their agreement.

To cover the remaining $13,500, workers would apply for financial aid. Since Starbucks workers don’t earn a lot of money, they would likely qualify for the full Pell grant of $5,730 a year, or $11,460 over the two years, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of EdVisors.com, a website about paying for college. That would potentially leave workers with a bill of about $2,040 to pay out-of-pocket over the first two years.

The program would work similarly for the junior and senior years, except that Starbucks would reimburse any money workers end up having to pay out-of-pocket.

The caveat to Starbuck’s new tuition reimbursement program is that only workers who work at Starbucks’ 8200 company-operated, non-franchised locations are eligible.

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