Starbucks to reimburse employee tuition

As the battle over minimum wage and employee benefits rages on, Starbucks' (NASDAQ:SBUX) new plan to offer employees tuition reimbursement further raises the bar across retail channels.

The Seattle-based company is partnering with Arizona State University to offer employees full tuition reimbursement for bachelor's degrees earned online.

The "Starbucks College Achievement Plan" applies to employees, or "partners" as the company refers to them, who work an average of 20 hours per week at any company-operated store including Teavana, La Boulange, Evolution Fresh and Seattle's Best Coffee.

Partners admitted as a junior or senior will earn full tuition reimbursement for each semester of full-time coursework they complete toward a bachelor's degree. Freshmen and sophomores will be eligible for a partial tuition scholarship and need-based financial aid for two years of full-time study.

In addition to financial support, Starbucks and ASU have developed a retention model to support the unique needs of working students. Partners will have a dedicated enrollment coach, financial aid counselor and academic advisor to support them through graduation. The program also will include adaptive learning services to assist students in curriculum planning and post-graduate outreach.

There are more than 40 undergraduate programs available and while retail management is on the list, areas of study include many non-retail related subjects including engineering, education and business. Starbucks requires no commitment to remain at the company past graduation, but the goal, according to the company, is to boost retention rates.

"Our investment in high-quality education will attract and retain passionate partners who will move our company and our economy forward," said President and CEO Howard Schultz. "In the last few years, we have seen the fracturing of the American Dream. There's no doubt, the inequality within the country has created a situation where many Americans are being left behind. The question for all of us is, should we accept that, or should we try and do something about it? Supporting our partners' ambitions is the very best investment Starbucks can make."

As the spotlight shines ever brighter on retail employment practices, programs such as Starbucks helps push the industry forward in terms of setting best practices. Higher hourly wages, increased benefits and now tuition reimbursement are all points of consideration.

For more:
-See this Starbucks press release

Related stories:
Will Seattle's wage hike expand nationwide?
Gap raises minimum wage for 65,000 U.S. employees
More fast-food strikes in 50 cities on run-up to Labor Day
Obama applauds Costco's wages after SOTU push for 'income equality'
Starbucks' sales hit record-high but growth slows