lineup at Starbucks in Canada/Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler/Grid Engine


Depending on who you ask, Starbucks’ offer of help with online degrees for its baristas is either a road out of poverty or just another form of oppression.

From Forbes:

… for Starbucks’ employees who work at least 20 hours a week, the new Starbucks College Achievement plan will offer free tuition for juniors and seniors to complete a bachelor’s degree via Arizona State University, and at least 50% tuition reimbursement for freshmen and sophomores.

“The idea is to break this downward cycle of class-based education,” whereby kids from the highest earning families in the U.S. have an 80% chance of earning a college degree, while those from the lowest-income families have a mere 9% chance, Crow said at the event.

He called ASU a “public-purpose” university whose “gains are accomplished by inclusion, not exclusion,” the latter of which has become the prevailing model at the nation’s educational institutions.

On the other hand, at Britain’s Guardian, Michelle Chen tells us:

Starbucks baristudents should beware the green mermaid bearing gifts

The coffee chain wants to help its baristas get a college education. But at what price?

Of course, spin aside, Starbucks’s plan won’t make college free: employees’ gratification will necessarily be delayed as they pursue their degrees. And even to qualify, students must first assume the considerable risk of embarking on college with no guarantee of completion – earning the first two years’ worth of credits while juggling a part-time job.

Despite their boss’s hyper-caffeinated funding boost, Baristudents will likely run into the same setbacks faced by many of their fatigued peers who drop out at massive rates due to cost and other hardships. They may struggle to make pay their portion of the tuition bill, or become ensnared by student loans, or just be unable to juggle school with work and family obligations. Those stumbling blocks on the college path don’t vanish just because Starbucks is promising to reimburse workers down the line. With or without the partial scholarship, the workers facing the steepest barriers may continue to view college as a luxury they can’t afford on barista wages.

She suggest that Starbucks simply pay employees more instead.

The obvious problem is that if Starbucks wants a more educated workforce, its present plan is probably better. And, in fairness, no one said college was easy for most students; the company is only trying to make it possible for those with a burning desire.

But now, what about those online degrees? Are they the wave of the future?

They can slash education costs, especially for people who live in remote areas or have mobility problems (including young children at home!).

A key reason for rising costs at traditional bricks-and-mortar institutions is the increase in university administration size and the number of non-essential amenities the universities are expected to provide.

If all you want is accredited courses, you would certainly be better off to study at home on line, if possible. Especially if your employer provides your late-night coffees at home for free.

However, a very important question then arises: If the student needs to earn more money (presumably a barista at Starbucks does), how can we find out if the course suggested will lead to a job in the chosen field? Here are some handy Internet tools (there are lots more out there) to help research that:

– Degrees that are hot or not, as far as jobs are concerned.

– College degrees that get the most job offers

Best and worst master’s degrees for finding a job

– 8 degrees that will earn the money back

As we can see from this limited sample, we can find out in advance whether a degree is likely to form the basis of a career or just be an expensive labour of love.

But students and their families and friends should also keep this in mind: Statistics are generalities. One must factor in one’s own circumstances. An art history degree might not lead to a job—unless friends own an art gallery, and the degree provides a valuable source of contacts as well as knowledge. Similarly, a degree in “ecology” or “environmental studies” sounds vague but it may qualify the student to seek training as a high school science teacher. So the question turns out to be whether one wants to teach high school science, and if so, is one qualified and are there jobs?

Free advice: If it is your life, be ruthless. Ask, will this degree—for all the trouble it entails— lead me to a better place or not?


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...