Starbucks has signed an agreement with Arizona State University to offer its workers the chance to earn online qualifications for discounted rates.
The partnership will give 135,000 Starbucks employees across the United States the option, providing they work for the coffee chain a minimum of 20 hours a week. The Seattle-based company's latest scheme will phase out its current tuition reimbursement program, which offered some employees up to $1,000 a year to study at particular schools.
Starbucks staff choosing to pursue their degrees through the agreement will receive partial tuition for the first two years, and full tuition for the final two years of study.
Online courses do not have to relate to work at the chain, and staff are not tied down to working for Starbucks after their degrees are earned. Over 40 courses are on offer, including subjects such as business, engineering, education and management.
While the financial details of the deal have not been disclosed, if employees choose to enroll, increased numbers are likely to fortify Arizona State's online program, which costs roughly $10,000 a year.
In a statement posted on its website, the university said the project is designed to "support the nearly 50 percent of college students in the United States today who fail to complete their degrees due to mounting debt, a tenuous work-life balance and a lack of support."
However, online degrees are still not considered as valuable as in-class courses, and so the uptake on the offer is under question. In addition, the subsidized fees will help, but for entry-level staff on low wages, the help may still not be enough.