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Starbucks, ASU Online partnership expands with Pathway to Admission

New program gives academically ineligible employees of the coffee company another opportunity to seek admission to ASU


Starbucks Pathway to Admission
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March 22, 2017

Arizona State University and Starbucks are expanding their innovative tuition-reimbursement partnership in an initiative that offers the chance of a college education to 15,000 Starbucks employees, known by the coffee company as partners, who want a degree but don’t currently qualify for admission.

The new Pathway to Admission program, announced Wednesday, will allow Starbucks employees a way to earn admission to ASU if they successfully complete a series of ASU courses offered through Global Freshman Academy.

The Starbucks College Achievement Plan already reimburses tuition for employees. But since the launch of the program in 2014, some who applied were found to be academically ineligible for admission. The new initiative gives those employees another opportunity to earn admission to ASU.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (pictured above) announced Pathway to Admission at the Starbucks annual shareholders’ meeting in Seattle on Wednesday. He used his final address as CEO to focus on the moral responsibilities of the company and its commitment to hiring veterans, refugees and at-risk youths.

“Not every decision in business is an economic one,” he said. “We recognize what our responsibility is in addition to making a profit.”

Schultz said the new Pathway to Admission program will help Starbucks achieve its commitment to launch 25,000 college graduates by 2025.

“Regardless of your test scores, regardless of your history, everyone at Starbucks is now going to have access to a free college education,” he told the shareholders.

ASU President Michael Crow said Pathway to Admission is an example of the innovative partnership between ASU and Starbucks.

“This program is a clear expression of Starbucks’ commitment to its partners and ASU’s continuing mission to use technology to broaden access to higher education and empower more individuals to obtain a college degree,” Crow said.

Pathway to Admission will partner with ASU’s online Global Freshman Academy, which offers first-year college courses hosted on the edX platform, with participants having the option to pay for credit after they pass the course.

Through ASU’s partnership with edX, an online learning destination and MOOC provider founded by MIT and Harvard, students are able to learn, explore and complete ASU courses before applying or paying for credit, which reduces academic and monetary barriers while opening a new path to a college degree for many students.

Starbucks employees partners who participate in the Pathway to Admission program will receive guidance from ASU support specialists to determine the number of online classes needed to become admissible to ASU, and to maintain engagement and motivation. Most potential students will take four to eight courses before demonstrating college readiness, depending on academic history.

Starbucks covers the cost of the courses, with employees paying a $49 fee to verify their identity for each class. Pathway to Admission courses are taught by the same ASU faculty who teach on its campuses.

If employees pass with a “C” grade or better, they can convert that class for academic credit at ASU. Once they complete the requirements of the Pathway to Admission program and are accepted at ASU, they can then transition into the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which offers 100 percent tuition reimbursement for every eligible employee and a selection of more than 60 degrees. 

Starbucks choir and military members onstage

The Starbucks Choir and military members take the stage during the 2017 Starbucks annual meeting of shareholders at McCaw Hall in Seattle on Wednesday. In 2015, Starbucks expanded the Starbucks College Achievement Plan to allow active-duty or veteran employees to add a family member to the plan, reimbursing their ASU Online tuition. Photo courtesy of Starbucks

Justin Stilwell, a Starbucks shift supervisor in Phoenix, had always wanted to attend college as he worked two jobs to save up for tuition.

“I thought Starbucks was going to be a cool job to have temporarily,” he said. “But I came to realize that there were real opportunities for growth with the company.”

Last year, Stilwell heard about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.

“I thought it was great because I could study anything I was passionate about, whether that meant staying with Starbucks or moving on after graduation,” he said.

He applied but was ineligible because he never took his Scholastic Aptitude Test. Then he heard about Pathway to Admission and is now taking classes through Pathways program with the goal of earning admission as a full-time ASU student.

“It means so much to not stress out about school and how I will pay for it,” he said. “Starbucks is giving people this great opportunity to advance in any direction in life. Some people think if you don’t go to college right away it’s too late for you, but it’s never too late.”

More than 8,600 Starbucks employees have enrolled in the Starbucks College Achievement Plan since it launched in June 2014, and with more than 1,000 graduates expected by the end of 2017. 

Wednesday’s meeting was Starbucks’ 25th as a public company and Schultz’s final as CEO. He’ll transition to executive chairman next month, focusing on development of Starbucks Reserve Roasteries. Schultz will be the speaker at ASU’s commencement on May 8 at Sun Devil Stadium.

Top photo: Howard Schultz, Starbucks chairman and chief executive officer, speaks during the 2017 Starbucks annual meeting of shareholders at McCaw Hall in Seattle on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Starbucks

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