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Starbucks Will Fund Online College Degrees for Thousands of Employees College juniors and seniors who work more than 20 hours per week will be eligible to enroll in a tuition-free online program with Arizona State University.

By Geoff Weiss

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Amid skyrocketing tuition costs, Starbucks is brewing a groundbreaking initiative to help push its baristas through college.

The coffee chain has inked an exclusive partnership with Arizona State University (ASU), whereby it will pay for college juniors and seniors who work more than 20 hours per week to finish their degrees via online programs. Dubbed the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, participants can choose from 40 total fields of study.

Freshmen and sophomores will also receive partial scholarships from Starbucks, in addition to need-based financial aid from both the government and ASU.

Related: With National Rollout, Will Starbucks Make Wireless Phone Charging the New Wi-Fi?

To hurdle administrative complications, each participant will receive "a dedicated enrollment coach, financial aid counselor and academic advisor," Starbucks said.

Though the program marks a vast and uncommon investment in the future of its workforce -- and was undoubtedly designed to rouse driven and committed employees -- participants are in no way obligated to remain with the company after graduation, according to the coffee giant.

Thus far, the program is only available in America, where the chain employs roughly 135,000 people -- the majority of whom haven't finished college, Starbucks said. It is open to employees at all Starbucks-owned properties, including Teavana, La Boulange, Evolution Fresh and Seattle's Best Coffee. Support center and plant staffers are also eligible.

Related: A Dallas Man Just Concocted the Most Expensive Starbucks Order of All Time

An emotionally-charged video on the company's website introducing the initiative showcases six employees tearfully telling their loved ones that they'll be able to complete their degrees.

"We can't be a bystander, and we can't wait for Washington," said Starbucks' president and CEO, Howard Schultz, who himself grew up in federally-subsidized housing and attended university on a football scholarship. "I strongly believe that businesses and business leaders must do more for people and more for the communities we serve."

This isn't Starbucks' first foray into the realm of higher education. Until now, the company has reimbursed benefits-eligible students roughly $1,000 per year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Related: Troubling Trend: Fewer High School Grads Are Choosing College

Geoff Weiss

Former Staff Writer

Geoff Weiss is a former staff writer at Entrepreneur.com.

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