Starbucks “Free College” is really “Free PR”

Melissa Byrne
Jun 16, 2014 · 2 min read

Today, Starbucks announced their “cutting edge”, “game changing” FREE COLLEGE program for their baristas. Except it’s not cutting-edge or game changing. And, it’s not really free.

Starbucks is switching out their traditional partial tuition reimbursement program to one that forces their employees to attend one college— and an online college at that— if they want to get help paying for college.


Yes, no longer do Starbucks employees have the free choice to attend the college that is best for them— and a college that is their choice— if they want their company to help them further their education. Instead, Starbucks will tell them to go the Arizona State University’s online program or they are the good ole SOL.

Here’s the thing: College should be free. College should be seen as a critical investment that is a partnership between the student, the school, and society. Programs like HECS in Australia, and the pilot program in Oregon- Pay It Forward- show alternative funding models for higher education.

Students shouldn’t be forced into a college that isn’t right for them. Students should be able to pick the school that is best for their educational needs. Online learning is not right for most students. The brick and mortar campuses have a higher completion rate along with the mentoring and networking that lead to higher job placement.

University of Wisconsin Professor Sara Goldrick- Rab tweeted that “Online instruction seems to hinder college progress for low-income students ) aka Sbux employees” offering a link to a study on the effectiveness of online learning.

Higher education is at a crisis point. We don’t solve the crisis by letting for-profit corporations like Starbucks tout solution that are nothing more than PR stunts aimed to inoculate themselves from their role in creating lower wage jobs and driving higher inequality.

The low-income employees at Starbucks deserve the same opportunities as the children of the Starbucks executives. I guarantee they won’t send their children to ASU’s online degree program.

It’s too bad now that baristas who work at Starbucks on the campus of colleges across the country will no longer get any support to finish their degrees locally.

One day, our campaigns to make college free will win and we’ll abolish student loan debt. Until then, poorer low-wage workers will be the fodder for huge corporation trying to get better PR off their struggle.

The Synapse

Authentic voices in education. To join us, tweet @synapsepub.

    Melissa Byrne

    Written by

    I’m an organizer by calling.

    The Synapse

    Authentic voices in education. To join us, tweet @synapsepub.

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