Starbucks is getting some good publicity for helping it’s employees go to college:

Arizona State is one of the nation’s largest universities and has grown rapidly in recent years. Crow said it has about 65,000 students enrolled in programs at the main campus in Tempe and others in the Phoenix area. Another 10,000, he said, are enrolled in online programs that began three years ago. The university has 40 online undergraduate degree programs, in subjects ranging from art history to electrical engineering.

The Starbucks initiative could help double the university’s online footprint. Crow, who is one of the nation’s more ambitious university leaders, said Arizona State’s online operation is of a scale comparable to those of Penn State University and the University of Maryland University College.

Crow said he was pleased to collaborate with Starbucks on a program that aims to deliver “a first-class college education.” Arizona State, he said, “has the vision, programs and scale to deliver it to Starbucks employees in every part of the country.”

Burt approves, as it coincides with his own views that employment should not be considered a contract.

I would have expected to respond to this sort of thing very favorably. And yet I find my actual response to be more mixed. Not that I think Starbucks is doing anything wrong here – not in the least – but that something is sort of amiss.

As far as online colleges go, Arizona State University has one of the most expensive programs. It’s been a general disappointment that brick and mortar universities have not used online education as a means to reduce costs (suggesting, in my view, a profit center). Especially so, though, witht he big name universities like Arizona State and Maryland. Others, owing perhaps in part to their lack of brand and the fact that they serve less wealthy states, have done better. While Arizona State’s online tuitions are $500 an hour, Troy University’s are closer to $300 or so and North Dakota is closer to $200 (with other North and South Dakota schools being between $200-300). The normal in-state tuition discrepancy isn’t nearly this large.

Starbucks, meanwhile, is a relatively premier employer for those in the service industry. Contrary to what some people think, it’s not actually easy to get a job there. Leaguer Michael Drew has reported as much, and that corresponds with my experience. So while you may be dealing with people who have been “reduced” to service industry jobs, you’re still dealing with a cut above the rest. And now they have easy access to a great school that seemingly put up cost barriers to everyone else.

And Starbucks is getting a tax benefit for doing so, as college tuition (similar to health insurance) is a tax-free form of compensation.

Which leads me to the niggling concern that as a stop-gap for us having to deal with escalating college costs, we may have price-insensitive employers striking deals (negotiated rates) with universities. Making yet another thing tied to who you can get a job with. With yet another bypass of dealing with the rising and inflated costs of university.

Category: Office, School

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3 Responses to Barista Devils

  1. Peter says:

    Starbucks is a “premier” employer only in the sense that it has a reputation as a trendy place to work while you’re waiting for something better. A liberal arts graduate working at Starbucks can maintain his or her dignity in a way that one working at Dunkin’ Donuts cannot. As far as I know, however, it doesn’t pay any more that most fast-food outlets or retailers, and it’s debatable whether the working conditions are any better.

    Note that the tuition program only applies to employees working 20 or more hours per week. I don’t know how Starbucks schedules work, but based on the what fast-food and retailer jobs are like it’s entirely possible that a majority of the workers fall under the 20-hour mark.

    • trumwill says:

      Yeah, that’s the kind of “premier” that I meant. They can afford to be choosy and I would bet compared to other employers, they tend to hire from a more set more likely to have a middle class upbringing.

  2. To be honest, once I learned that this was for an online programme, I realized that this is at worst a PR stunt given that the vast majority of college students working at Starbucks are actually attending others schools. Unless they’re willing to transfer their credits at a potential loss to ASU’s online programme, it’s useless.

    OTOH, to a college grad, the grad school options may actually work out rather well.

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