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Starbucks takes the lead in social responsibility at home

By Judith Nemes

Starbucks is often touted as one of the more enlightened corporations in the U.S. that’s working hard at shrinking its carbon footprint and pursuing global social responsibility initiatives. Those goals are achieved through innovative green building programs, sustainable operating practices, and sourcing fair trade coffees to improve the lives of coffee growers (and their workers) around the world.

 Starbucks’ leaders recently expanded their efforts in social responsibility—only this time a lot closer to home. The Seattle-based company established a college education program in a unique partnership with Arizona State University (ASU) that encourages its own employees to finish college. The carrot for that nudge to go back to school is tuition reimbursement so individuals who start out at Starbucks can aspire to even greater opportunities and achieve improvements in their quality of life.

U.S.-based Starbucks employees who work 20 hours per week or more can sign up to earn a bachelor’s degree in one of 40 undergraduate degree disciplines offered by ASU’s prestigious online program.

Employees who are already in route to acquiring a bachelor’s degree and enroll as juniors or seniors will get full tuition reimbursement from Starbucks for every semester of fully completed courses, the company says. Freshmen and sophomores who enroll at ASU online through the program can receive partial tuition payback and need-based financial aid, according to Starbucks.

        No strings attached

Perhaps most surprisingly, Starbucks employees who graduate aren’t obligated to continue working for the company once they’ve received their bachelor’s diploma.  The motivation for initiating the College Achievement Plan, or CAP, was to encourage more individuals to finish college who couldn’t otherwise afford to do so.

      Two-tiered reimbursement, extra support

The program has two levels of reimbursement. Starbucks is offering maximum incentive to individuals who are closer to completing their degrees, but also gives partial reimbursement to freshmen and sophomores as a motivator to get on the path to higher education. Students receive a small scholarship from Starbucks when they first enroll, which never has to be repaid. Participating employees pay upfront for the rest of their tuition and other fees, but then are reimbursed by Starbucks every time they complete 21 credits (the estimated equivalent of a full semester of classes).

In addition to the 40 existing majors available at ASU online, Starbucks and the university created a new Retail Management Degree that’s geared toward employees who are interested in expanding their skill set for a retail environment and staying with the company after acquiring their degree, says Dayna Eberhardt, Starbuck’s vice president of Global Learning.

Launching the Starbucks’ CAP program has naturally boosted enrollment for ASU, but Michael M. Crow, the university’s president, says the incentive for collaborating with Starbucks was not about numbers. It was more about fulfilling the university’s mission to widen diversity among its student base and encouraging more individuals who don’t have the luxury of attending college full-time to find ways to obtain their degree, he asserts.

LEED Certification

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a non profit organization that certifies sustainable businesses, homes, hospitals, schools, and neighborhoods. USGBC is dedicated to expanding green building practices and education, and its LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System™.

Chemline, Inc. is a member of The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and has the potential to provide LEED points.