Opinion

As Starbucks offers free college tuition other companies should take note

Coffee company’s new programs sets a great example for other business leaders

Strabucks college

I have so much student loan debt that my plans for finally paying it off it include either A: Marrying rich, or B. Dying.

Seriously, death is listed as the number-two way to get rid of student loan debt on the federal website, right after “total and permanent disability.” That alone should tell you something.

Student loans are a huge burden on millions of Americans, and the average college graduate has about $30,000 to repay. Of course, seeing as how I’ve always been an overachiever, I went ahead and overachieved here too, getting a master’s degree so I could be “above average.”  

Crystal Lindell
Crystal Lindell

Which is fine, whatever. It’s cool. Like I said, either a rich husband or death will save me.

But not everyone can count on those things, which is why this country really needs to re-evaluate the cost of college. And I can tell you from experience that the U.S. government is not going to come in and save the day. They can’t even agree on whether or not give everyone access to basic health care, so I’m guessing higher education isn’t a high priority for them.

Which is what makes Starbuck’s new free college tuition program so incredibly important.

The coffee company announced this week that it would pay tuition costs for any employee who wanted to get a bachelor’s degree via online courses at Arizona State University.

Now, the program isn’t perfect. The students have to take online courses, which tend to lack a certain je ne sais quoi element you can only find in a live classroom. And the program only guarantees full tuition for juniors and seniors, while freshman and sophomores will get a partial scholarship and need-based financial aid.

However, even with all those stipulations, it’s still pretty incredible. And, the best part is, the employees are under no obligation to stay at Starbucks after they earn their degree. In other words, it’s as if the company really is offering something for nothing.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz went on The Daily Show to discuss the plan, and told host John Stewart that the program was the first of its kind in the United States.

“It’ll be millions of dollars per year,” Schultz admitted.

In fact, Stewart said during the interview that even if just 3 percent of Starbucks’ employees take the company up on the offer, it’s going to cost the coffee chain about $50 million.

But, Schultz says he started the program because he understands how important it is to value his employees.

“I think Starbucks has always taken a different track to building a company,” he explains “We’re a public company, we have to build long-term value for the shareholder, but we recognized a long time ago when we provided health care for our people, ownership for our people, the only way you can build a great and enduring company is by linking shareholder value with value for employees.”

The thing is, Starbucks doesn’t have to be so “different.” So many business leaders are constantly rallying for the government to stay out of things. But if that’s the case, then they need to step up.

Employers need to realize how important retention is, and understand that there are more ways to compensate their workers for punching in everyday then sending them a pay check.

Those who run sustainability programs around the world seem to know these things almost intuitively. Retaining cocoa farmers has become about offering cocoa training courses, and mobile text tips and in-town education centers.

But employee sustainability doesn’t have to stop at the U.S. border. There are plenty of ways for company owners to invest in their staff right here in the states, with full health care for full- and part-time employees, free college tuition programs and stock ownership.

Thank you Starbucks for again setting an example in the business community of what it truly looks like to govern your own company. I only hope others will follow suit. 

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