The First Barista Accepted to ASU through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan

Every Monday morning starts the same way for Allison Hills.

She’s the opening shift supervisor at a Starbucks store. Part of Allison’s early morning routine includes checking for action items – promotional offers or announcements of new beverages – from the company.

Something unusual popped up on the store’s computer screen a few weeks ago and brought Allison’s scrolling to a stop.

“I read it. I read it again. Then kept re-reading it, and re-reading it,” she recalled. “I can’t be reading this right.”

Allison was one of the 135,000 Starbucks partners (employees) learning the details of Starbucks College Achievement Plan. She became the first partner to enroll in the program to complete her bachelor’s degree.

Starbucks is offering partners based in the U.S., working an average of at least 20 hours per week, tuition reimbursement through a unique collaboration with Arizona State University’s online degree program.

Partners admitted to ASU as a junior or senior will earn full tuition reimbursement to complete their bachelor’s degree. Freshmen and sophomores will be eligible for a partial tuition scholarship and need-based financial aid toward two years of full-time study.  

“I’ve always wanted to finish my degree. I wanted to complete it online and I wanted the degree to be from Arizona State University,” she said. “How could these three dreams be coming together as one?”

Allison went to Arizona State University after graduating from high school but only finished two years of college. With student loans topping $26,000, she moved back home after her sophomore year to get a job.

“I fell in love with the campus in Tempe. I loved the curriculum and I prayed I could someday finish my ASU degree,” she said. “I felt a little defeated, a little hopeless that it didn’t work out.”

Allison regrouped and found a job soon after returning to her hometown of Bonney Lake, Washington. A friend told her a Starbucks store in the area was hiring. A few weeks later she was wearing the green apron and learning to make Starbucks handcrafted beverages.

“That’s not easy, by the way,” she joked.

About six months later she was promoted to shift supervisor and then took on the responsibility of being the opening shift supervisor – the one who goes through the “action items.”

As Allison was reading about the opportunity to complete her bachelor’s degree, her mother, Sandy Hills, was hearing about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan on the news.

Sandy sent a text to her daughter. Too excited to wait for a response, she drove to Allison’s Starbucks to make sure she knew about “a chance to complete a dream.”

“She’s my baby,” Sandy said with a tear in her eye, glancing at her daughter. “She is capable of doing more in her life than she even realizes. Completing her college degree is something she’s wanted to do. It’s also something I want for her life, and have been pushing for, because I know it’s going to open so many doors for her.”

Opening her laptop as soon as she got home from work, Allison applied to continue her ASU education. In part because she was a previous student, Allison Hills became the first partner to be accepted into the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.

There are 40 online degree options through ASU. Allison will major in either engineering management or business sustainability.

Before Allison’s mom heard about the opportunity for her daughter to finish her bachelor’s degree with full tuition reimbursement, Starbucks was a just a place to get a “really good cappuccino – dry, half pump.” Now it means something deeper to Sandy.

“I always knew it was a good company, but now it’s directly changing our family in a personal way. Ali’s going to reach her goals and my dream for her is coming true,” she said. “Imagine all the other families that are in our shoes. It’s absolutely amazing.”

UPDATE 11/3: Recently Allison visited the ASU campus. Here's a glimpse of her experience: 

Allison Hills Visits ASU from ASU Online on Vimeo.

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