In 2014, Starbucks and Arizona State University (ASU) introduced the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP), which provided Starbucks’ US employees the opportunity to earn their first-time bachelor’s degree with the company paying for 100% of their tuition.
This week, nearly 900 Starbucks employees will graduate from ASU. That’s the largest graduating class in SCAP’s history, pushing the total number of graduates to over 8,500.
Starbucks was an early adopter of employer-provided college benefits, a movement that has gained great momentum in the past few years as large employers in various business sectors – including retail, fast-food, healthcare and hospitality – have added college tuition coverage to their menu of benefits in an attempt to attract and retain employees during a very tight labor market.
The program has continued to evolve since its initial agreement with ASU. While the partnership started with the sole focus on helping employees finish college, it has since matured into a substantially more comprehensive set of educational opportunities.
For example, in 2017, Starbucks and ASU began the Pathway to Admission program, which allows employees who are inadmissible to ASU to take up to ten online college-level courses so they can become eligible for admission to the university, with the costs of those credits fully covered by the company.
Also in 2017, Starbucks Global Academy was launched. It’s a globally accessible platform created in partnership with ASU for Starbucks partners, customers, ASU community members, and other individuals around the world that provides free access to courses covering a range of topics.
Then, in 2021, Starbucks modified the tuition reimbursement benefit by paying all tuition and fees upfront, as opposed to reimbursing employees for their out-of-pocket costs later.
More recently, Starbucks and ASU opened the ASU-Starbucks Center for the Future of People and Planet, a new research and rapid innovation facility created to discover new ways to design, build and operate Starbucks stores.
One of the knocks on employer-provided college benefits has been that, historically, relatively few employees have pursued the opportunity, and far fewer have ever finished their degrees. Starbucks and Arizona State appear to be turning those results around with their online offerings. For example,
- More than 20,000 Starbucks employees are currently participating in SCAP;
- With this month’s new graduates, the number of employees finishing their undergraduate degrees through SCAP will reach over 8,500, with Starbucks setting a goal of 25,000 graduates by 2025;
- There are more than one hundred different degree programs offered through the SCAP program, and Starbucks has employees enrolled in all of them.
- The leading majors in this graduating class are Psychology, Organizational Leadership, and Communications;
- Over 80% of Starbucks stores have at least one employee enrolled in college through SCAP, and 45 states will have graduates this May;
- Almost 20% of people who apply to work for Starbucks say that SCAP is a major reason for their decision;
- Over 20% of Starbucks employees in SCAP are first-generation college students;
- SCAP scholars are retained by Starbucks for a 50% longer period of time than non-participants, and they are promoted at nearly three times the rate of those employees who do not participate.
This year’s graduating class includes students like Genece Blackwell, a 14-year Starbucks employee, who’s now a district manager in San Francisco, set to earn her college degree with honors in organizational leadership, with a minor in communications. Her daughter, Breanna, a Starbucks barista in San Francisco, is right behind her. She has one more quarter to go and plans to graduate next fall.
Another example is Morgan Clark, who dropped out of college during the recession in the late 2000s. A few years later, after working at Starbucks, she signed up for SCAP in 2018, working toward her psychology degree. Now she’s graduating, and her long-range plans are to go on to grad school and become a clinical neuropsychologist.
ASU President Michael M. Crow continues to be a strong champion for the partnership with Starbucks. “More than half the Americans who started college since 1980 never finished,” he said. “Starbucks and ASU decided to combine our strengths to help shrink these numbers, and now we have more than 20,000 in our college achievement program and 7,500-plus program graduates, with nearly 900 this spring. We’ve shown that through collaboration, innovation and will, progress is possible and lives can be changed.”
And Starbucks officials were on the same page. “Listening to our partners (employees) and learning about how we could build the best experience for them at Starbucks and beyond led us to introduce the Starbucks College Achievement Plan in 2014,” said Starbucks group president, North America and chief operating officer, John Culvers. “At Starbucks, we believe it is our responsibility to help our partners achieve their biggest dreams and the college achievement program is a testament to that belief. It is inspiring to see how our partnership with Arizona State University has made such an incredible impact for nearly 9,000 Starbucks partner graduates.”