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June 18, 2014

Starbucks to pay part of college tuition for US store workers

Starbucks, which has offered company stock for store workers for more than two decades, will now begin picking up most of the college tab for its employees.

Starbucks workers who work at least 20 hours a week and enroll in Arizona State University's online bachelor's degree program will get $6,500, about half of their tuition, for the first two years and full tuition for the final two, the company said in an emailed statement.

"We've always known that our partners work hard every day," Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks' Americas region, said in a phone interview. "This is the best way we can serve them."

Starbucks, the world's largest coffee-shop operator, has offered cafe workers restricted stock, known as Bean Stock, since 1991, and has a 401(k) matching program. Store employees get a free pound of coffee weekly plus free beverages on work breaks and a 30 percent discount on Starbucks food, drinks and merchandise. The company previously offered as much as $1,000 a year in tuition reimbursement for employees who had worked at Starbucks at least one year.

Student-loan borrowers in the U.S. have amassed more than $1.2 trillion in debt — a drag on the economy as some young people avoid big purchases or starting a business. President Barack Obama issued an executive order on June 9 to expand a program easing student-loan payments. Still, on June 11, the U.S. Senate blocked a measure to let student-loan borrowers refinance their balances at lower interest rates.

In the new program, Starbucks workers can choose from about 40 programs, including engineering, nursing and business. Company employees working in support centers and roasting facilities, as well as for the Teavana, La Boulange and Evolution Fresh brands can participate. Workers won't be required to stay at Starbucks for a specified period after being reimbursed for tuition.

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