WANTED: FREE COLLEGE EDUCATION


 

Today it is difficult to fathom graduating from college without student debt. It seems like a long lost dream that only our parents were able to achieve by working throughout their college career for an education that cost a tenth of what it does today. For the Millennials, the only hope is for employers to possibly pay for graduate school in order to keep some of the debt at bay. However, before graduate school can even be entertained as an option, students must magically pay for the high cost of undergrad. Luckily for employees (partners) at Starbucks, the dream of going to college is becoming more tangible with the new Starbucks College Achievement Program (CAP), which pays for the partner’s online education through Arizona State University. It is difficult to see which of the three stakeholders in this scenario is benefitting the most through this program and if the program has a net good effect. However, through the lens of consequentialism, it is possible to determine that the net good of the College Achievement Program for the employees, Starbucks, Arizona State University, and, possibly employees for large corporations around the world, outweighs the negative components and is thus a morally good program.

Starbucks is a company that prides itself on its employee benefits, ranging from providing personalized benefits packages to college educations. The new College Achievement Program provides scholarships to attend Arizona State University to employees that work at least 20 hours per week. This program is designed to incentivize partners to chase their dreams of higher education by having ASU provide a discounted tuition. Then, Starbucks provides full reimbursement to the student employee for the cost of coursework after 21 credits (7 classes) have been fulfilled. For those of a junior or senior status, Starbucks and ASU provide full tuition compensation. Those of a freshman or sophomore status receive a partial scholarship from ASU and need-based financial aid (“College Plan”). Beyond deleting the cost barrier of receiving a higher education, the program also “ensures that partners receive a personal level of support, custom-built for each partner, including a dedicated enrollment coach, financial aid counselor and academic advisor. Starbucks wants its partners to have the support they need in order to graduate from college (“College Plan”).” Therefore through this program, Starbucks is eliminating multiple factors that inhibit its employees from attending and/or completing their college degrees.

The College Achievement Program is helping stakeholders on all sides. Employees are able to receive financial reimbursement for their education and are also provided with an enrollment coach, financial aid counselor and an academic advisor. To students at other universities that are currently facing mounting student debt by themselves, it seems as though Starbucks employees have received the golden ticket. They have advisors in every facet that is difficult to navigate, do not have to commute to school, have a steady job that is paying for other expenses, and will graduate with little or no student debt. These are simply the short-term benefits. In the long term, Starbucks partners that take advantage of the CAP are given opportunities they never thought possible. They can now receive a higher education and pursue their dreams, whether they wish to continue up the corporate ladder at Starbucks or to pursue entirely different careers, such as teaching. Thus, the College Achievement Program becomes a life changing opportunity for the employees who participate.

Student partners are not the only stakeholders benefiting a significant amount from the College Achievement Program. Both Starbucks and Arizona State University also have significant gains that are being made. Both now appear to be socially aware and revolutionary. After all, the public does not see any other companies willing to pay for an undergraduate degree aside from the military. One could look at what Starbucks is doing and conclude that it is a socially responsible company that is dedicated to personalized benefits for its partners. Beyond a now excellent public rapport, Starbucks is now keeping part-time employees for at least one year while the partners finish their degrees, but could be keeping employees for up to four years for those who are using CAP as a way to fund their entire college education. Such a situation decreases turnover rate and partner training costs. Furthermore, the company is provided with employees that will be college educated who can go farther in the company if they choose to stay upon graduation. Starbucks is simply providing its partners with a gateway to success and looks excellent to the public while doing so.

Arizona State University is arguably the stakeholder gaining the most in College Achievement Program scenario. First, the university is being recognized nationally by Starbucks as having an excellent “undergraduate degree programs that are research driven and are a top-ranked program, all delivered online (“College Plan”).” Such esteem by a respected company helps the university to recruit more students throughout the country because it is now known as a good school. It is all free marketing for the school. Beyond saving on marketing to other perspective students, ASU is gaining hardworking students without having to recruit them or spend funds on marketing. In total this saves the school a significant amount of money. “Based on the financial models and cost structures that ASU has developed, ‘the school will not be taking a loss.’ The president of the university, Michael Crow, said ASU could afford to offer the CAP scholarships because the university generates surpluses from the higher tuition it charges to students coming from out of state and overseas, and because ASU Online’s prices also allow it to generate an operating profit margin (Blumenstyk).” Thus, Arizona State University is gaining new students from Starbucks and across the country without spending a dime on marketing or recruiting; additionally the school is bettering its reputation.

In order to determine if the College Achievement Program is morally acceptable, it is worthwhile to consider the plausible definitions of consequentialism. Consequentialism is defined as “the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences (Haines).” However, this definition fails to define what the “right kinds of consequences” are. Thus the most important portion of the definition is at the discretion of the individual. To be morally correct it is simply necessary to choose the option with the best overall consequences. From this initial definition, consequentialism is broken down into many different parts. The most applicable kind of consequentialism to Starbucks College Achievement Program is dual consequentialism. According to this definition:

The word “right” is ambiguous. It has a moral sense and an objective sense. (i) The objectively right action is the action with the best consequences, and (ii) the morally right action is any action with the best reasonably expected consequences (Haines).

By using this explanation, it makes it morally ok for Starbucks and Arizona State University to use the CAP to further business. What matters is that both organizations are providing a program that has a net benefit to the participants. The explanation does not exclude parties that are monetarily benefiting. All of the stakeholders benefit and thus the course of action is deemed morally appropriate.

If consequentialism is all about the overall good of an action then even if Starbucks and Arizona State University are providing the College Achievement Program for better publicity, it is still an acceptable course of action because of the good it is doing for the employees. But how much good is really being provided? By working, employees receive less need-based financial aid. This increases the price of tuition. Additionally, Starbucks is reimbursing the students, not paying upfront. This means that the students are still fronting the initial costs until they complete the 21 credits (Lee). Furthermore, students of freshman and sophomore status are receiving less of a scholarship to attend than those of junior and senior status. Thus if an employee has never attended college, there is still hardly an incentive to do so because of the smaller scholarship.

One aspect has yet to be considered and it is that of the social reverberations of the creation of the College Achievement Program. Because this is the first program of its kind, Starbucks and Arizona State University are setting the industry standards for a new wave of corporate responsibility. As Starbucks CEO and president Howard Schultz pointed out:

“There has been a fracturing of the American Dream. The inequality within the country has created a situation where many Americans are being left behind. He strongly believes that companies must do more for their people and should serve their people as well as they serve their customers (“Starbucks College Achievement Plan: A Lifetime of Opportunity”).’”

If companies began to follow this structure because of the innovative approach Starbucks and ASU had, then the net good of the action exponentially increases. The program now not only affects the employees at Starbucks but at other work places as well. Starbucks employs over 100,000 young people in the United States and the majority of them lack a college degree (“Starbucks College Achievement Plan: A Lifetime of Opportunity”). If other companies of this scale were to offer similar programs, the gap between those who are educated on a collegiate level and those who are not could shrink significantly. Many more people would gain the opportunity to pursue their dreams, which would not only help them but also allow them to make gains for society that never would have occurred otherwise.

All of the stakeholders involved in the College Achievement Program have much to gain through the initiation of the program. Starbucks, Arizona State University, partners at Starbucks and, possibly, employees everywhere are able to gain. Starbucks gains employees that are more qualified for higher-level positions and decrease the turnover among lower-level employees. Arizona State University gains a large amount of new students and national recognition as a respectable program. Partners gain an education and all of the new opportunities that accompany it. Finally, employees everywhere gain the possibility of other companies following suit. This chain of reactions results in a massive net good, both morally and objectively. Thus, consequentialism would state that although there are some trivial issues with the College Achievement Program that the program is overall morally correct and benefitting those involved.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Blumenstyk, Goldie. “In Deal With Starbucks, Arizona State U. Kicks In Substantial Aid.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

“College Plan.” Starbucks Coffee Company. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

Cunningham, Lillian. “At Starbucks, a Plan to Reap the Benefits from a Benefit.”Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

Haines, William. “Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

Lee, Jolie. “Free? Starbucks Tuition Program Receives Criticism.” USA Today. Gannett, 18 June 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

“Partners Begin Classes at ASU.” Starbucks Newsroom. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

“Starbucks, ASU Team up for Employee Education Program.” ASU News. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

“Starbucks College Achievement Plan: A Lifetime of Opportunity.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

 

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2 thoughts on “WANTED: FREE COLLEGE EDUCATION”

  1. I can imagine paying full costs for first two years and then tapering off. This would do more to encourage starting and rely on students to find resources to finish, as opposed to asking them to find resources to start and then help finish. There are pros and cons both ways.

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