Starbucks and ASU Create a Retail Management Degree for Baristas

Brand reputation, values-centered leadership, and ethical sourcing are components of a new online Retail Management Degree that Starbucks and Arizona State University created for partners who are part of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. 

The Starbucks College Achievement Plan, launched June of 2014, is a significant partnership with ASU that creates an opportunity for eligible Starbucks partners (employees) to finish a bachelor’s degree with full tuition reimbursement through the college’s top-ranked online degree program. Junior and senior students receive full tuition coverage to complete their degrees while freshmen and sophomores can access a combination of partial tuition scholarships and access to need-based financial aid. 

Classes for the first spring session of 2015 started this week for more than 1,500 Starbucks partners. The term began with the new, customized Retail Management degree in addition to the 40-plus options ASU already offers. 

“Finishing college while working is an unbelievable challenge and we are proud to partner with ASU on this new program to make a four year degree a reality for so many U.S. partners,” said John Kelly senior vice president of Global Responsibility and Public Policy.  “We hope Congress and the White House will learn from these private sector efforts to address college affordability.”

Customizing a retail degree for partners

“We have partners who want to stay with Starbucks and grow their careers in retail after they complete their education,” said Dayna Eberhardt, vice president of Global Learning. “This customized degree is meant to help teach them the kinds of skills they need to be successful in doing that.”

Eberhardt and her team defined five categories of learning that are important to Starbucks: people and team leadership; critical thinking and problem solving; business management; customer service; and sustainability. Drawing on classes ASU currently offers related to those key subject areas, Starbucks and the university’s W. P. Carey School of Business created the new retail degree.

Case studies from Starbucks business situations will be used in the classes, which are open to all ASU students. The next phase of the retail degree might include further customizing classes. For example, future course studies could include examining the challenges of balancing a premium brand with affordability or supply chain issues specific to Starbucks.

Another possibility is inviting Starbucks leaders to be guest lecturers.

“It would be beneficial to get as close as possible to teaching our partners the specific skills they’d need to be successful at Starbucks,” said Eberhardt. “There are many exciting possibilities that would help our partners learn and apply valuable skills that are relevant to Starbucks.”

The first Starbucks College Achievement Plan graduate – ‘I’m proof it can be done’

Starbucks shift supervisor Kaede Clifford is open to new possibilities this year as the first graduate of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. Clifford has been a Starbucks partner for 13 years. During that time she’s moved from Seattle to Arizona to Germany then back to Washington state. With support from the Starbucks partner education benefit, she recently completed a degree she had started years earlier with ASU.

“I decided to take a semester off and that turned into six years,” Clifford said. “It was important to me to finish my degree. I wanted to finish something I started and also I know it will provide more opportunities to further my career.”

Clifford graduated summa cum laude in December with a BA in Mass Communication and Media Studies. The field interested her after years of being a Starbucks barista and communicating with thousands of customers.

“It’s been interesting watching how people interact with each other in a Starbucks store. It’s almost like a learning lab of its own,” she said.

One of her favorite classes was studying the evolution of digital communications from print, to radio, to television and online.

“It was difficult to take classes online at first. You do have to hold yourself accountable to studying, but I’m proof it can be done,” Clifford said.

For partners who are considering the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, Eberhardt suggested talking with an ASU enrollment coach who can answer questions about managing work, family and online study and can give specific tips about signing up for classes and a special week-long orientation program designed for Starbucks partners. 

Starbucks College Achievement Plan and Arizona State University