Starbucks' College Achievement Plan Program Is A Life-Saver For Millennials

As student debt continues to crush recent grads entering a still-recovering job market, it's about time employers step up to help their degree-seeking workers: Starbucks announced a new college degree program, the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, for employees who work at least 20 hours a week at the coffee company. A joint partnership with Arizona State University, the Starbucks College Achievement Plan will help Starbucks workers get an online college degree for a super-low cost. It's a major upgrade from the coffee giant's tuition reimbursement program, which will eventually be phased out in favor of the ASU partnership.

“In the last few years, we have seen the fracturing of the American Dream,” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said in a statement. “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."

Here's how the new Starbucks program works: Freshman and sophomore students who work at least 20 hours a week at Starbucks — or one of its affiliated companies, including Teavana — will receive a partial scholarship and need-based financial aid to the ASU online degree program, which costs about $10,000 per year. Junior and senior students will earn full tuition reimbursement for each year of coursework they complete.

Prospective students can choose from ASU's large selection of degree programs, which range from art history to health sciences. According to Starbucks, more than 70 percent of its employees are either enrolled college students or aspiring students. The company says its new program will help perpetuate "the promise and pursuit of the American Dream" for its employees.

Starbucks and ASU haven't made the scholarship amounts public, but college financial experts say freshman and sophomore students in the program will mostly likely only pay about $2,000 out of pocket for their degree if they're able to receive a Pell Grant. That's not bad at all, considering the average U.S. college student leaves with about $30,000 in debt, according to a report from Project Student Debt.

For juniors and seniors who've already completed coursework toward their degrees, the tuition reimbursement means they'll likely finish their programs without paying a cent. It's certainly a step up from Starbucks previous tuition reimbursement plan, which only gave its student works up to $1,000 a year for courses at Strayer University or City University of Seattle.

Although the Starbucks-ASU partnership is one of a kind, there are a number of American companies out there that offer tuition reimbursement to their workers — many of which are low wage. For example, UPS has an Earn & Learn Program for part-time employees, providing $3,000 per academic year and up to $15,000 over a lifetime.

Walmart also has a college degree program for its workers through American Public University, a for-profit school. The program offers 15 percent reductions on tuition. However, Walmart and Sam's Club employees can only enroll in certain courses, such as retail management, which ultimately limits their education opportunities.

As college tuition continues to increase — and subsequently, student debt — Starbucks' new program may just be what we need. After all, we all know that working your way through college has become a sort of a myth: In 2014, a college student would need to work 60 hours a week at a minimum-wage job to pay off a single credit hour; try timing that by 16 — the typical number of credits in a semester. It's no wonder that Millennials are viewed as the "Royally Screwed Generation."

But if Starbucks can help hard-working students gain an accredited degree from a school with a great reputation for little cost, then maybe other retailer giants should take note.