The Fine Print Behind Starbucks Tuition Program

Analysts say that the upfront cost of the tuition reimbursement program may turn some students away

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Before qualifying for the tution reimbursement program, students must complete 21 undergraduate credits.

On Monday, June 16, Starbucks unveiled a program offering employees the chance to complete their college degree online for free, or for a small portion of tuition. News of the announcement spread quickly, and around the internet, Starbucks was applauded for an innovative decision to provide its employees across the country with access to a college degree.

Not surprisingly, the news was followed not long after with criticism about some of the details listed in the fine print, much of which Starbucks failed to publicize in the press release or on the program’s page, the Starbucks College Achievement Program.

The primary stipulation, which some educators and education analysts have suggested might be enough to deter employees, is that students must complete at least 21 credits (out of 120 to qualify for a bachelor’s degree) from Arizona State University before receiving reimbursement.

Based on ASU’s tuition costs of $480 to $543 per undergraduate credit, 21 credits would cost students between $10,080 and $11,403. Rachel Fishman, an education policy analyst, told The New York Times that the initial commitment “pushes a lot of risk onto the student.”

However, Starbucks has stated that the company will provide some financial aid to offset the cost of the first 21 credits. Combined with federal financial aid, Starbucks strategy director Lacey All told The New York Times that no student is expected to pay more than half the full price out of pocket.

As of next year, Starbucks will also eliminate its previous, limited tuition reimbursement program, which only offers $1000 a year. The previous program was applicable at any university, while the new program will only cover the company’s partnership with Arizona State University.

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Starbucks employees who decide to take advantage of the program do not need to work full time, and do not need to remain at the company for any length of time after obtaining their degree.

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Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.