The prime motivators for Diane Trimble’s drive to get a college degree are named Christopher Jr., Christian and Jordan. For Donald Reid, they’re Katie, Sara and Maggie. Andi Vyner’s inspiration is a 4-year-old named Braxton.
Trimble, Reid and Vyner have all earned diplomas through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, a partnership between Arizona State University and Starbucks that covers tuition for eligible partners to earn a bachelor’s degree from the university’s top-ranked online programs. More than 7,000 Starbucks partners are currently participating in SCAP. The Distance Education Report of 2017, conducted by Digital Learning Compass, shows that more than 6 million students are now enrolled in distance education.
Karen Pedersen, chief knowledge officer for the Online Learning Consortium, a professional association that supports distance education, said a major segment of the online student body is older, with abbreviated college experiences cut short for a variety of reasons ranging from finances to a lack of motivation. Programs like SCAP accommodate their complex schedules and play to their strengths as mature, focused students.
“Today’s learner is an adult learner,” Pederson said. “They’re working full-time. They’re studying part-time. They started their degree earlier in life but didn’t finish.
“When you’re looking at an adult learner, they are typically highly focused on their studies. They’re balancing work, family and community commitment.”
The prospect of a better job and personal fulfillment drive nontraditional students, Pedersen noted, adding that the desire to provide direction to offspring comes into play for many parents.
“So many of the graduates talk about the fact that they were earning a degree because they wanted to be a role model for their children,” she said. “They wanted to be able to say, ‘Your mom did it,’ or ‘Your dad did it, so you can do it, too.’”
‘I had a great mentor’
Diane Trimble’s oldest son was starting to look at colleges in 2014 when she began thinking about completing her degree. The 40-year-old native of Pasadena, Calif., had put in two years at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, fresh out of high school. But full-time work to pay tuition and discomfort with large classes eventually got the better of her, and she dropped out and returned to California, working in restaurant management and completing a one-year community college program.
Trimble got married, had three sons and began working for Starbucks in 2010, settling in as a store manager in Victorville, Calif. Completing her undergraduate studies became a lower priority until Christopher Jr.’s search for the perfect college renewed her drive to complete what she’d started in the mid-’90s.
“[Christopher] was starting to ask questions: ‘Where did I go to school? How did I do in college,’” Trimble recalled. “Some of the questions were hard for me to answer. I started asking myself: How could I be a role model for my kids. How can I lead?”
She’d enrolled and was accepted at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, Calif., when Starbucks began offering full tuition reimbursement to juniors and seniors in 2014. (The program was extended to full-tuition reimbursement for all eligible partners, including freshmen and sophomores, in April 2015.) Changing direction, she began her studies at ASU in 2015 and graduated the following year with a degree in organizational leadership.
Online education proved to be a better fit for Trimble than classroom learning. “I realized I learned differently,” she said. “I learn better in a small setting because online there are only 25 to 35 students. Your professors are very supportive. You could email them. You could call them. They’d make time for you if you weren’t understanding an assignment or you needed support.”
Trimble is committed to continuing her education at ASU. She anticipates completing her master’s degree in sustainability leadership in 2018. By then, her eldest will be well established at Colorado State University, while 16-year-old Christian will be starting college and 14-year-old Jordan will be laying the groundwork for his advanced studies.
“I remember the moment when my eldest son got his admission to college and I told him how proud I was of him,” Trimble said. “His first comment to me was, ‘I had a great mentor.’”
‘It was all about that rejuvenation for learning’
At 53, Donald Reid has experienced more than most of the members of the ASU class of 2017, which included more than 300 fellow Starbucks partners graduating through SCAP. A design school dropout who worked for years in the fashion field, he recovered from the 2008 economic downturn by entering culinary school and becoming a chef, and has been with Starbucks for four years, currently working as a shift supervisor in Aurora, Ill. Until recently, he questioned whether there was really that much more he could learn.
Reid’s oldest daughter, Katie, worked for Starbucks for six years, beginning in high school and staying with the company until she graduated from DePaul University. When SCAP was introduced, she prodded her father to join the company and take the opportunity to earn a college degree.
In the fall of 2015, Reid began taking online courses at ASU. Soon he found himself doing homework side-by-side with middle daughter Sara, who was enrolled at North Central College in Naperville, Ill., and his youngest, Maggie, who was a student at Loyola University Chicago. He concluded that online education was every bit as engaging as his previous experiences and was a far better fit for his lifestyle.
“I think the best part of it was that I could manage it on my own schedule,” he said. “I didn’t have to get to a class and I didn’t have to spend time on campus. I could literally do my homework and take a test still in my pajamas.”
With a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies under his belt, Reid has set his sights on earning a master’s degree from ASU.
Reid’s daughters and partner, David, surprised him in Tempe when he attended his graduation ceremony. He also got to meet some distance classmates face to face, including some who’d waited as long as he had to go back to school.
“We all had the same story, which was really interesting to me,” Reid said. “It was all about that rejuvenation for learning, and understanding that you’re never too old to learn. That’s what I put on my graduation cap: Never Too Old.”
‘They all saw what it had done for me’
Braxton Vyner is still adjusting to his mother’s new homework-free schedule. For the nearly five years he’s been alive, his mother has been working toward her bachelor’s degree. When Braxton was born early in the fall semester of 2012, she maintained a full slate of classes at the University of Houston and barely missed a beat. When she’d put him to bed at 8, she’d open her computer and put in three hours of study. When the family vacated their old home in Houston to move to a new one in Seattle, she sat down in unfurnished rooms in each city days apart and completed online tests.
Now, however, when he asks, “Does mommy have homework tonight?” Andi Vyner replies, “No! I’m done forever!”
“He is the reason I finished school,” said Vyner. “For sure.”
Though she’s only 34, Vyner’s path to ASU took her through two community colleges and the University of Houston.
College wasn’t a priority in Vyner’s family growing up, and family financial problems made it seem out of reach. After high school, she gave Houston Community College a try. She joined Starbucks as a barista in 2002 and dropped out of school when she became a store manager at 21.
“I never wanted to experience that debt,” she said. “I just said, ‘I’m making a decent paycheck now and I like what I’m doing. Why would I ever worry about that?’ So I just said nope and waited.”
Braxton was born early in her third semester at the University of Houston. She took a 10-month sabbatical from Starbucks but maintained a taxing schedule caring for a newborn and attending classes full-time while her husband worked in retail and played drums in a touring rock band.
When SCAP came along, it fit Vyner’s needs across the board. Online courses meant she no longer had to spend six hours a week commuting to classes, relieving pressure at home and at work. Tuition-free classes eased her financial concerns.
A summer internship in 2014 brought her to Starbucks headquarters in Seattle and led to a permanent position with the company as a financial analyst. Vyner received her ASU degree in global logistics management in 2016 and she and her husband now live in Issaquah, Wash.
Before she left her Starbucks in Houston, however, she convinced six store partners to enroll at ASU. One is nearing graduation.
“They all saw what it had done for me – how much better I felt and how much time I had to see my family,” Vyner said. “A lot of it was me saying, ‘If I can do it, you can do it. You don’t have kids. You don’t have to worry about caring for a family. It’s just you and what you want to do with the rest of your life.’”