The New York Times reports:
Starbucks will provide a free online college education to thousands of its workers, without requiring that they remain with the company, through an unusual arrangement with Arizona State University, the company and the university will announce on Monday.
The program is open to any of the company’s 135,000 United States employees, provided they work at least 20 hours a week and have the grades and test scores to gain admission to Arizona State. For a barista with at least two years of college credit, the company will pay full tuition.
Starbucks is, in effect, inviting its workers, from the day they join the company, to study whatever they like, and then leave whenever they like — knowing that many of them, degrees in hand, will leave for better-paying jobs.
This is a prescient and inspiring move by Starbucks. It’s particularly interesting for three reasons:
- The company knows that in this era education is our limiting factor. Fast food is historically a people-powered industrial machine. As computers replace humans in those roles, employees will need to be more skilled.
- Starbucks is the latest corporation to step into a role traditionally occupied by the government. As the US government continues to languish with education, I suspect we’ll see more of this.
- This is only possible because of online education delivery. The incremental cost of an additional online student is orders of magnitude lower than that of an in-person one.
I don’t know much about the experience of this program, and I’m naturally skeptical of a “get-a-degree-in-two-years” education, but it’s a step in the right direction. The content and process of college needs an overhaul, and I think we’re more likely to see improvement with corporations getting more involved.
I fully expect other large companies to follow in Starbucks’s wake—and I’m excited to see where that goes.