On the day it unveiled its new tuition-reimbursement plan for employees, Starbucks was met with a crush of interest from the media and corporate America pushing to know more about CEO Howard Schultz’s latest HR ploy. It fielded a lot of criticism, too. The College Achievement Plan pays full tuition for employees who work an average of 20 hours a week and who are juniors and seniors—and only at ASU Online, Arizona State University’s Web degree program. Starbucks also received an application to the program on that first day—from 22-year-old shift supervisor Allison Hills of its Puyallup, Wash., store. She had read about the benefit when she opened the store. Two hours after clocking off, the former ASU student (who had dropped out after two years due to mounting costs) applied and was accepted, making her the first employee to enroll under Starbucks’ plan.
Why did the tuition plan resonate?
It was exactly what I had been waiting for. In April 2012, I made the decision to move back home and figure out the rest of my schooling. I had accumulated student-loan debt ($26,000), and I could no longer afford school. I started working at Starbucks in July 2012 and began brainstorming how I would finish my degree. I looked into local colleges and online colleges but nothing felt right, so I waited. My goal was to finish my degree, I just didn’t know how it was going to happen.
Any concern about going to school while working?
I’m not worried, because it allows me to manage my time more responsibly. My work schedule allows me to get off at noon, and I have the rest of the day to be productive. I plan on going to the gym, then coming home and dedicating [3 hours] to school every day and some evenings. I am a little nervous about being a full-time online student. I’ve taken online classes at ASU, and it requires you to be a lot more self-disciplined. I have to take initiative and organize myself to set myself up for success.
The program requires no obligation to Starbucks after completion, but do you feel obligated?
I don’t feel obligated at all. I feel inspired to continue working for them, because they are a one-of-a-kind company. Starbucks is investing in my future; it believes in me and is supporting me.