The announcement this past weekend that Starbucks is partnering with Arizona State University to offer free online college degrees to thousands of its baristas raised a number of questions. First and foremost: Arizona State who?
In unveiling its new "College Achievement Plan," Starbucks put the spotlight on ASU, calling it one of the "most forward-looking universities in the country." It illuminated an aggressively growing public university in the Phoenix metropolitan area that has been quietly earning academic standing and a reputation for innovation. What probably helped cement the deal is that the university's civic responsibility matches that of the coffee company.
We don't want to heap too much praise on Starbucks Corp., as it still makes a tidy fortune using low-paid workers. The company reported a profit for the three-month period that ended March 30 of $427 million.
But still, not many money-making concerns are as interested in the welfare and future prospects of their employees. Starbucks also offers health benefits to employees who work at least 20 hours a week, and stock options.
Good corporate citizenship is appreciated.
College is a perk worth about $30,000. Considering that 70% of Starbucks' workforce, according to the company, are either students or want to be students, that is a hefty investment potentially far more valuable than a raise of a couple bucks.
It's also a tremendous boost to the school. ASU has about 75,000 students — 10,000 of them in online programs — and is becoming one of the West's academic powerhouses.
It's significant that Starbucks turned to ASU, rather than the comparatively gargantuan California State University or University of California, both still reeling economically and spiritually from the recession.
"Arizona State is the only university that could stand side-by-side with Starbucks to offer a high-quality education, at scale, to all of our U.S. partners," Starbucks spokesperson Jaime Riley wrote in an email to The Bee in response to the question: Why ASU?
"Plus, ASU is ranked the second-most innovative school in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and ranks 5th in the U.S. in producing the best-qualified graduates."
Philip Regier, executive vice provost, said ASU already has re-engineered processes, such as shortening the time from application to admission from six weeks to 48 hours.