(NEW YORK) -- It’s a historic week for Starbucks. Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz announced a new program to benefit 135,000 baristas. The Seattle-based corporation is teaming up with Arizona State University to offer the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which pays for full and part-time employees to go to college online.
In an interview with ABC News chief business and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis, who also hosts Real Biz, Schultz said his company is taking the first step toward fixing the trillion-dollar college debt crisis in America. He said he hopes more U.S. business leaders will follow in his footsteps.
Schultz noted that the greatest and most successful U.S. companies invest in their employees. “You can’t build a great company by just focusing on the bottom line and making money,” he said. “You can only build a great company by bringing people along on the journey."
“If you look at the history of great companies in America, those companies look at their people as a primary opportunity to invest in. There is no better time, and no more important issue then investing in human capital in America today.”
This is not the first time a company has offered education benefits to its employees. But Starbucks’ plan is unique in its size and scope, and there are no strings attached. So employees don’t have to continue to work for the company after they graduate.
Arizona State University president Michael Crow said his university is preparing for at least 15,000 students this year. With tuition costs at roughly $7,500 per student, Starbucks’ bill will add up to a hefty price.
Schultz, 60, confirmed that Starbucks’ college tuition program will cost millions of dollars, but made a point of reassuring his investors that the cost of the plan is already factored into the stock price. “We’ve demonstrated over 22 years that it’s a public company with significant shareholder-value performance,” he said. “That’s the only way you could know the long-term value for your shareholder, when you tie it to your people.”
Asked about his own coffee-drinking habits, Schultz told Jarvis about his coffee of choice, saying that his order, "depending on the day is in the morning a double espresso macchiato and the rest of the day it is a French press of Sumatra that I make myself.” Beyond coffee, Schultz said the top drink he couldn't live without is water.
Noting their creativity and effort to help their employees, Schultz noted Costco and Whole Foods as the two companies he admires most, saying that, "it's not a surprise that those companies are very successful."
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