April 21, 2015 Coffee & Company

The Atlantic Cover Story: Can Starbucks Save the Middle Class?

Going to college and completing a degree are two different things for more than 35 Million Americans who now have some college experience, but no degree. And some who attended college are worse off than they might have been without a degree because they have tens of thousands of dollars in debt to pay off.  

Those realities are the basis for an extensive article in The Atlantic - "The Upwardly Mobile Barista: Starbucks and Arizona State University are collaborating to help cafe workers get college degrees. Is this a model for helping more Americans reach the middle class?"

Our class-based higher-education divide explains more about America’s widening income gap than does any other single factor, according to Anthony P. Carnevale, the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Declining union membership, frayed social services, low minimum wages—none matters as much as the unequal distribution of college degrees and certificates. “Income inequality started increasing in 1983,” Carnevale told me, “and 70 percent of that inequality is derived from differences in access to higher education. It is both a fountain of opportunity and a bastion of privilege. The problem has gotten worse and worse and worse.”

Last summer, in an unusual attempt to reverse this trend in his own corner of the service economy, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, announced that his company would team up with Arizona State University, one of the nation’s largest public universities, to help Starbucks employees finish college. As long as they worked 20 hours or more per week, any of the company’s 135,000 employees in the United States would be eligible for the program. Those who’d already racked up at least two years’ worth of credits would be fully reimbursed for the rest of their education. Those with fewer or no credits would receive a 22 percent tuition discount from Arizona State until they reached the full-reimbursement level. 

“We’re not trying to save the world,” Arizona State’s president, Michael Crow, told reporter Amanda Ripley. “We’re trying to show that the world can be saved.”

Read the full article, The Upwardly Mobile Barista, by The Atlantic and watch a video the news organization created called "Starbucks University."

Also, discover more stories about Starbucks partners (employees) enrolled in the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.

Photos courtesy The Atlantic

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