A Match Made in Arizona: ASU, Starbucks, and Free College

Funding education shouldn’t be a financial burden. With the national student debt sitting at $1.87 trillion and poised to grow, it’s imperative that the way students pay for college changes.

In 2014, ASU partnered with Starbucks in a one-of-a-kind partnership to create opportunity for Starbucks partners (employees) to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree from ASU online tuition-free. The program, called the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, is not only a strong recruitment tool for the Starbucks brand, but also for ASU’s online education program.

This unlikely partnership was the topic of a panel at SXSWedu called “Driving Social Innovation: Free Education,” featuring Phillip Regier, University Dean for Educational Initiatives and CEO, EdPlus at ASU, and Mary Dixon, director, Starbucks College Achievement Plan.

During their joint panel at SXSWedu, Dixon and Regier discussed not only the business imperatives a model such as this provides, but the moral importance of education for all, using many different charts to show the various outcomes and situations of a multitude of students.

“The biggest indicator in whether or not someone graduates from college is their parents’ zip code,” Regier stated. “Only 10% of low-income students will go on to attend college.”

By partnering with one of the largest of employers in the U.S., this program offers a chance at higher education by those who may have felt it impossible.

“The current educational system in the U.S. is not designed for all learners,” Regier included.

“By traditional means, we can only serve a small number of students. If we use new models, and that would include online education, we can serve a larger slice of the population.”

As the CEO of EdPlus, Regier has been in the forefront of the educational shift needed for the success of varying students. According to the presentation, the average age of an online-only student is 31. Life circumstances often prevent this group of students from returning to a brick and mortar university. Sometimes, they don’t finish altogether.

“We chose to partner with ASU because our values of inclusion and completion align,” said Dixon, director of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.

In addition to making sure students had access to the program, ASU wanted to ensure that those who start the program ultimately finish. This led to the creation of an app accessible only by Starbucks partners. The app is one of the most unique parts of the program, as it acts as a liaison between the online program and where the partner is in their education.

Starbucks is not the only partnership for ASU. Currently, they are partnered with 180 various collaborators to ensure an educated workforce across the U.S.

ASU has also created Global Freshman Academy, a free, open-scale online academy offering basic prerequisite coursework in five different sought-after fields. If the student passes the course, they only pay $50 and receive credit. If the student goes above and beyond, scoring A and B level grades, they are guaranteed admission to ASU online.

This May, ASU and Starbucks’ partnership will see 1,000 students graduated from this free college program. With the intent to meet people where they are, ASU hopes to continue to fill the gap for students whose life prevents them obtaining a degree traditionally.

Listen to the full interview with Phil Regier:

Christine Hagen

Christine Hagen Young

Christine Hagen Young is a freelance writer, podcaster, and filmmaker in Austin, Texas. Having previously worked in education, she is currently pursuing her passion for storytelling. She spends her free time obsessing over pop culture from yesteryear.