Coffee giant Starbucks has raised the bar once again for how companies should demonstrate their values in action. Starbucks' announcement of offering free college tuition to its full- or part-time employees is game changing in the QSR space with an hourly workforce. But the decision goes far beyond an employee benefit. The fruits of Starbucks' investment exceed impacts on not only the lives of its employees; it also benefits the U.S. economy as a whole, by providing a more educated, skilled workforce.
The Starbucks College Achievement Plan, created in partnership with Arizona State University (ASU), would allow qualified college juniors and seniors to take ASU online courses for full tuition reimbursement (after a discount from ASU, as well as scholarship and need-based financial aid). Freshmen and sophomore employees are also eligible for partial reimbursement as part of the initiative. In an interview with CNN, CEO Howard Schultz described the impetus for the program, "The rules of engagement for running a company that is people-based like Starbucks, and so many other companies: you just can not continue to leave your people behind and only focus on shareholder value." Schultz also mentioned in the interview that of Starbucks' 135,000 U.S. employees, 70 percent do not currently hold undergraduate degrees.
Starbucks has long been the poster child for economic development programs in the U.S. Although its flagship “Create Jobs for USA” program helped bolster the economy through small business job creation, Starbucks has targeted the issue in a variety of ways, including the Vote.Give.Grow program and opting to purchase ceramic mugs in Ohio instead of abroad. CEO Howard Schultz has been a vocal advocate of, and longtime contributor to, improving economic conditions in the U.S., including backing divisive political decisions like an increase in minimum wage. And although the recent announcement is not without criticism, the move not only aligns with Starbucks' core values but also has the potential to create systematic change through building a more educated and valuable workforce.