Reigniting Starbucks Partners’ Dreams of a College Degree

It didn’t seem like much of a choice.

The summer after Tammie Lopez graduated from high school, her father lost his job as the manager of a construction company in Bakersfield, California. It was at the height of the recession in 2009. No one was building, and no one was hiring either.  

Scholarships and income from a part-time job would help Lopez pay for college in the fall, but as she studied, she worried.

“I couldn’t stay in school and watch my family suffer. We fell behind on mortgage payments. We fell behind on car payments,” she said. “I had never seen my dad so sad before. He didn’t have a high school diploma and he couldn’t find another job.”

Lopez cut back her school hours, took on a second job, and helped her father study for his G.E.D.

Her first year of classes at California State University would also be her last.

“I had to make an adult decision,” she said.

She gave the remainder of her scholarship money to her parents so they wouldn’t lose the family home to foreclosure.

Lopez, now a Starbucks barista in Southern California, is among the thousands of partners (employees) who plan to complete their education with the help of a new program – Starbucks College Achievement Plan. The Starbucks initiative presents an opportunity for partners to complete a bachelor’s degree, with full tuition coverage, through a unique collaboration with Arizona State University’s top-ranked online degree program.

Partners admitted as a junior or senior at ASU will earn full tuition reimbursement for each year of coursework they complete toward a bachelor’s degree.  Partners who are accepted to ASU as freshmen and sophomores will be eligible for a partial tuition scholarship and need-based financial aid for two years of full-time study.  Starbucks partners in the U.S. working an average of 20 hours per week may choose from more than 40 ASU undergraduate degree programs.

Lopez will resume her college studies. “I never thought this was possible. I’ve seen documentaries where people have their school paid for and I always thought those people are blessed. That’s amazing,” she said. “Starbucks is lifting such a weight off my shoulders.”

With Starbucks help, Michael Bojorquez plans to become the first person in his family to get a college degree.

“It blows my mind to be honest,” Bojorquez said. “Knowing that Starbucks is going to help me with my education makes me love being a barista and love this company even more.”

Bojorquez has watched both of his parents balance two, three, even four jobs at a time. He also watched his mother turn over the keys to the family car so he could have an easier commute getting to his two jobs while going to school to pursue a degree in sociology. Seeing her son’s determination to get a college education, Bojorquez’s mother decided to ride a bicycle to work so he could have a car.

He told his mother, through a Skype conversation, that Starbucks will soon pay for his tuition as he works to complete his degree online through Arizona State University.

“I have been waiting a long time for something this special to happen to our family,” his mother said in tears. “This is something big, and you can become something big. You have my heart. Every day I thank God for you.”

Bojorquez said goodbye, closed his laptop, put his head in his hands and cried silently. 

“This changes everything for us,” he said. “This changes everything for me.”