Tears and Personal Stories Punctuate Starbucks ‘Monumental’ College Benefit Announcement

Tears and personal stories punctuated Starbucks announcement today that it will offer full tuition reimbursement for partners (employees) who want to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Erica, who has been working for Starbucks for 17 years, told an audience at the first U.S. Partner Family Forum in New York she had to drop out of school before completing her degree.

“I’m from the projects, raised by a single mom earning $15,000,” she said. “When I heard the news, my daughter stared jumping up and down and said ‘finally you can graduate.’”

Now a Starbucks store manager, Erica always encourages partners in her store to “finish school.” Occasionally, they turn to her and ask, ‘When are you going to finish?’

She could begin working toward her degree completion as early as October with the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. Through an innovative collaboration with Arizona State University, partners based in the U.S. working an average of at least 20 hours per week may choose from more than 40 undergraduate online degrees.

Partners admitted to ASU as a junior or senior will earn full tuition reimbursement for each semester of full-time coursework they complete toward a bachelor’s degree. Freshmen and sophomores will be eligible for a partial tuition scholarship and need-based financial aid for two years of full-time study.  Partners will have no commitment to remain at the company past graduation.

“I want to personally thank you for everything you’ve done for my family,” Erica said to Starbucks ceo Howard Schultz. “I’ve always been committed to only one man in my life and that’s you.”

What did Schultz do with a comment like that? He went into the audience to give Erica a hug.

Erica is one 135,000 United States employees who could benefit from the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. A majority of Starbucks partners do not have a college degree, according to Schultz.

“This is a monumental, historic moment in time for our company,” Schultz said. “As you might imagine, I have been to thousands of Starbucks meetings over the past 34 years. This meeting, I think, above all else defines who we are as a company, what we believe in.”