Starbucks scholars: The coffee company brews college educations

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A college degree for cappuccinos? That could become a reality for workers at Starbucks, which announced a partnership Monday with Arizona State University to help pay the tuition costs for an online college education for thousands of its employees.

The program, available to any U.S. employee working at least 20 hours a week and with sufficient academic credentials for admission to Arizona State, will provide full tuition for workers with at least two years of college credit and partial tuition for those with less.

With financial aid and government grants, many baristas will be able to earn a bachelor’s degree for free — without the usual requirement that workers agree to stay with their company for years or take only work-related courses.

Starbucks deserves praise for treating its workers like resources, not liabilities. Its unorthodox approach to the low-paying service industry includes providing health insurance and stock options for its part-time employees. Starbucks contends that dedication to its workers, ingrained in the company’s philosophy, has propelled it to its current standing: more than 23,000 stores in 64 countries.

To the 70 percent of Starbucks workers the company says are seeking a degree, the college plan is welcome news. But motivated students of any background should be encouraged to attend college by sensible public policies, not just corporate generosity. For the millions of other employees in the restaurant industry, such an opportunity might never arise.

College education, the key to success for many Americans, is increasingly out of reach for the poor and middle class because of rising costs. “Many Americans are being left behind,” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz correctly noted in a news release. “The question for all of us is, should we accept that, or should we try to do something about it.”

Mr. Schultz isn’t accepting it. Neither should we.

 

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