Time often limits our access to opportunities. This especially applies to higher learning. To anybody whose time is precious — single mothers, working people, those often working multiple jobs — completing a college or master’s degree seems impossible. Sometimes crushingly impossible. However, companies are now stepping up to realize that investing in their employees’ education is the best investment they could make.

“Today, the biggest predictor of whether a person will graduate from college is their parents’ zip code, and more than half of U.S. students who start college do not finish,” says Adrienne Gemperle, senior vice president of Partner Resources for Starbucks.

Big decisions

Four years ago, the coffee chain began investigating the next way they could invest in their employees — known as partners — and create better opportunities. They investigated wisely — by asking their partners how they could help. Partners routinely said they wanted to finish college but were burdened by the financial challenges in their way.

“[About] 70 percent of our partners have not finished their bachelor’s degrees, and we wanted to help,” contends Gemperle.

Starbucks stores — and therefore partners — are located all over the world, and many struggle to balance their personal goals with their career goals. The logical choice of a university to pair up with to deliver this college assistance was Arizona State University, with more than 60 undergraduate online degree offerings.

“We wanted to make it as easy as possible to enroll and earn a degree,” Gemperle explains, noting the use of student services, personal enrollment coaches and academic and financial aid counselors as part of their decision to pick ASU.

“‘Michelle, a single mom, returned to school to finish her degree and has inspired her daughter to go to college.’”

Tasty offerings

In addition to a scholarship from ASU that covers 42 percent of the cost, Starbucks reimburses a partner for the remaining ASU tuition once need-based grants and military education benefits are applied. “The ideal candidate is any partner who aspires to earn a college degree, tuition-free,” says Gemperle. “Veterans bring considerable teamwork and leadership experience and are poised to be the next generation of America’s leaders.”

This benefit program also extends to the families of partners who are U.S. veterans, something the company wanted to make available if the families preferred this route to government-offered veteran family education programs.

NOT A TALL ORDER: The Starbucks College Achievement Plan aims to deliver college education. tuition-free — just ask. This not only improves employee retention, but also customer loyalty, creating a thriving business.

Balancing acts

Starbucks College Achievement Plan was designed with the awareness that many partners have past college experiences that weren’t positive. They created an app with “myth busting” videos from enrolled partners to share their stories and make it the most personal experience possible. With the busy lives students lead, programs like these promote essential tools like planning and time management, confidence building for those partway through their degree and learning good study habits.

“There are so many great stories that we hear every day. Partners who didn’t think they could finish their degree, or ever start one,” Gemperle describes. “Michelle, a single mom, returned to school to finish her degree and has inspired her daughter to go to college. Anthony, who wants to pursue journalism and filmmaking and is the first in his family to graduate.”

The program continues to grow, yielding more than 6,000 current participants and over 200 graduates so far. Because of investing in their employees, Starbucks currently enjoys a 40 percent higher retention rate with their SCAP partners than their core U.S. retail partners (and are also promoted four times higher).

The move also pays dividends in regards to customer loyalty. At Starbucks in particular, they are aware that the primary driver for returning customers is how the partners are treated. A happy, successful, and thriving partner radiates that sentiment through their service.