Starbucks’ partnership with Arizona State University could herald an effective way for students to get meaningful degrees–and turn a university into a powerhouse.

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The announcement this 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 sense of civic responsibility matches that of the coffee company.

We don’t want to heap too much praise on Starbucks Corp., as it still make a tidy fortune on the backs of thousands of low-paid workers slinging extra-caffeinated beverages and baked goods. The company reported a profit for the three-month period that ended March 30 of $427 million.

But still, not all – or even 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. The effort to be a good corporate citizen is appreciated.

No more so than by the some 135,000 U.S. employees (Starbucks calls them “partners”) who will be eligible to finish their final two years of a four-year degree through one of ASU’s 40 online degree programs, assuming they have the grades to get in, on the company’s dime.

It’s a perk worth about $30,000.

Students who are academic freshmen and sophomores can get a partial ride. Considering that 70 percent of Starbucks’ workforce, according to the company, are either students or want to be students, that’s a hefty investment that is potentially far more valuable than even a raise of a couple bucks.

(Next page: How Arizona State University made a great power move)


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