By: Helios on June 21st, 2014

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A Tuition Reimbursement Program Review: Starbucks Does It Best

Benefits | Employee Relations

When clients first come to me, I often hear these senior leaders talk about the lack of sleep at night. More often than not, they describe being fearful of what they don’t know when it comes to Human Resources compliance or an employee relations issue they fear may lead to a lawsuit. While we certainly alleviate their concerns by getting their HR department into shape, what I actually get excited to hear more is when a leader is worried about not doing enough to attract and retain top talent. They want to learn how to engage employees and develop them beyond the skills they have today to make a bigger impact.

When was the last time you pushed your organization out of its comfort zone (be it financial or physical) in order to show a commitment to not only your employees, but also the greater community?

I realize not all businesses have the financial backing to offer a tuition reimbursement program like Starbucks. However, what I love about this story is how Starbucks pushed themselves beyond the norm and implemented a program in-line with their core beliefs and capabilities.

Starbucks' College Achievement Plan: A Top Tuition Reimbursement Program


Recently, the famous coffee chain was highlighted in the news for partnering with Arizona State University (ASU) in an effort to provide continuing education to its employees by way of its one-of-a-kind College Achievement Plan. Going beyond the traditional tuition reimbursement program, Starbucks has promised its employees the ability to maintain a position with the company while developing their career.

The catch? As long as the employee works 20 hours per week and is enrolled as a Junior or a Senior, Starbucks will pay the full amount of the tuition towards a degree in any of ASU’s 40 undergraduate degree programs.

When I first heard about this story, I was struck by the enormity of the financial investment. Working in the Washington, DC metro area, it is common to see Starbucks located directly across the street from one another. What if all of those Baristas decided to take advantage of the program?

As I considered the potential numbers, I realized something even more striking about this progressive arrangement: Starbucks' commitment to investing in employee development empowers the individuals and our communities as a whole for future success.

The empowerment comes from the employee’s ability to drive their own progress. They have the ability to work and support their families while accomplishing one of life’s greatest achievements. Starbucks is not requiring a degree relevant to the coffee or retail business. Starbucks is focused on their employees and their individual goals. In turn, these employees remain committed to Starbucks knowing their employer believes in their ability to make an excellent cup of coffee, and their ability to make a difference in the world by way of their professional accomplishments.

For me, this story is one of creativity and engagement. I encourage you to brainstorm ideas in which your organization can demonstrate not only the desire to develop your employees, but the trust and knowledge that your employees are capable of achieving anything they put their minds to.