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Jun 16, 2014 02:30 AM EDT

Starbucks’ Workers Can Now Earn Online Degrees at ASU at Discounted Rates

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Starbucks is teaming up with the Arizona State University to allow its workers to acquire online college degrees at reduced tuition rates.

Starbucks College Achievement Plan is applicable to workers - who work at least 20 hours a week - at 8,200 company-operated sites. Workers have the liberty to choose programs that aren't connected to their professional life. The Plan doesn't require workers to return to Starbucks once they finish their degrees.

For freshmen and sophomore years, Starbucks and Arizona State will invest around $6,500 on average toward the estimated $20,000 in overall tuition. Workers can pay the remaining $13,500 through financial aid programs.

Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of EdVisors.com, said that since most of the workers do not make a lot of money, they are most likely to be eligible for a Pell Grant. If a worker qualifies for a full Pell grant of $5,730 a year ($11,460 for two years), he/she will have to just shell out $2,040 from their pockets toward tuition, Huffington Post reports.

The program would also function similarly for the junior and senior years with one exception. Starbucks will return any money workers paid out of their pockets. Starbucks said that program will be offered to workers at its other chains as well, including Teavana tea shops and Seattle's Best.

Kantrowitz said that the program would profit all the parties involved. Workers will earn degrees through affordable means, Starbucks could draw potential workers and enrolment can spike up at the Arizona State University.

"It's a way to expand revenue," Kantrowitz said.

After the launch of this new program, Starbucks is planning on eliminating its current tuition reimbursement program (rolled out in 2011) that offered workers up to $1,000 a year for courses at the City University of Seattle or Strayer University. Laurel Harper, a company spokeswoman, said that Starbucks has spent $6.5 million under the previous program.

Starbucks is not the first retail industry to offer tuition compensation to its minimum-wage workers.

In 2010, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. launched a venture with the American Public University to provide partial tuition grants to its workers and family members. So far, over 400 workers have earned degrees through the program. Similar to Starbucks, Wal-Mart's program also does not mandate workers to stay back and allows them to enrol in to a variety of degrees.

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