Accents on English: Spring-Summer 2015

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A Star(bucks) Student: FMS Major Tiffany Zinn

Tiffany ZinnFilm and Media Studies student Tiffany Zinn always wanted to be an oceanographer. “I have been dreaming about [it] my entire life,” she says.

But for Zinn, that dream is underwater for the time being. The Arizona resident couldn’t afford to leave the state for college. “Unfortunately there are no oceans in Arizona, and the universities I had always dreamed of attending were all out of state which made them cost twice as much,” she laments.

So, Zinn did the next best thing: she signed on to a new educational plan through her employer, Starbucks, and chose a humanities major at ASU that would prepare her for just about anything.

For Zinn—along with 100 other English and Film and Media Studies majors and over 1,800 more ASU students—higher education is now more accessible because of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (CAP) which it administers in partnership with ASU.

An Innovative Partnership

Starbucks employees, called partners, who work 20 hours or more per week, are provided full tuition reimbursement from Starbucks for any tuition not covered by the College Achievement Plan Scholarship or any need-based grants they may receive. Partners can choose from nearly 50 majors in this online program to begin or continue their college degrees and do not need to stay with Starbucks after graduation. English is currently the eighth most-selected academic program.  

Ryan Chase, Assistant Vice President of ASU Online, says that after a very successful program launch that resulted in 1,030 partners enrolled as of October 2014, the program was expanded in April to assist even more partners. The original program, derived from non-state funds, gave a 22% tuition scholarship to freshmen and sophomores and made more money accessible to juniors and seniors. Based on employee feedback, which indicated that costs and the tuition reimbursement timeframe was too long, the program was changed to:

  • Provide all partners the same scholarship regardless of grade level; and
  • Have reimbursement take place sooner – at the end of each semester – instead of after the completion of 21 semester credit hours (as originally designed).

In addition to providing full tuition, the program supplies Starbucks partners with a wide range of student services, including personal enrollment coaches, financial aid counselors, and what are called “success coaches,” who help partners set goals, manage time, and integrate into the university.

Linda Sullivan, Assistant Director of Academic Services in the Department of English, says advisors are also part of the Starbucks partners’ academic team. “I’ve had the opportunity to advise a number of the Starbucks students and I continue to be impressed by their enthusiasm for learning and their preparedness for continuing their education. They are tremendously appreciative of this partnership between ASU and Starbucks and for many, it’s exactly what they’ve been waiting for.”

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has said that he and ASU President Michael Crow first developed the idea for the corporation and university partnership at a meeting of the Markle Foundation in Aspen, Colorado two years ago. ASU was selected from a small group of universities to provide quality education to participating Starbucks partners. ASU’s commitment to providing an education to a broad spectrum of American society—not just the academically advanced—sealed the partnership. Of course another “selling point” was the robust ASU Online program, which offers full university degrees.

More growth is in the works. In this next stage, program administrators are now predicting that between 3,000 and 5,000 more Starbucks employees will enroll in their first two years. They hope to see 25,000 partners graduate over the next decade which would substantially increase ASU’s overall online program, begun in 2010, which now has 13,000 students.

Meeting a True Student Need

The cost of education remains a concern for almost every college student. Over 70% of Starbucks employees lack a college degree, roughly reflective of American society at large. Thirty-five million Americans have begun college but not finished. This is a social problem CEO Schultz is eager to address. “To build a great, enduring company that is so people-based, as Starbucks is,” Schultz has said, “we have to bring our people along on this journey and demonstrate we are sharing the success.”

Zinn is a great example of the kind of student who had attended some college but had been unable to complete a bachelor’s degree.

“Before this program I was at a community college since my freshman year of high school, and I had previously applied and been accepted to multiple universities, including ASU. . . . Unfortunately I was never able to attend due to the lack of financial aid contrasting with the high cost of tuition and books.”

Tuition for ASU’s online program is about $15,000 annually. Over the next 10 years, Starbucks plans to spend “at least $250 million”on enrolling partners in ASU’s program.

Given the more than 135,000 people employed by Starbucks at its 7,300-plus company-operated stores in the U.S., the College Achievement Plan is ambitious and expensive. Starbucks has already spent time and money explaining, promoting, and encouraging partners to apply for college. “Starbucks and ASU are providing a uniquely supportive environment for balancing meaningful work with education,” says Chase. “Starbucks partners are retaining at the same or higher rates than our traditional online student population. The initiative is committed to expanding opportunities making it possible for partners to complete their degree and build a bright future for themselves, within Starbucks and beyond.”

Zinn agrees. “It's definitely a blessing being able to finally pursue an education.”

Karen Dwyer

Photo: A selfie of Tiffany Zinn in her Stabucks apron.

Header background image is an undated photograph—likely from the early 1900s—of members of the Alpha Society, a mandatory literary club, posing with what is now "A" Mountain in the background. UP UPC ASUD A4242 #3