College goals in reach for Starbucks partners, thanks to “Pathway”

Quincey Burton started working as a Starbucks barista when she was 16 and in high school. Once she graduated, she wanted to take advantage of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan and attend Arizona State University. But she was short a math requirement and didn’t get in. Burton, 19, a shift supervisor in Paso Robles, Calif., thought she was out of luck.

Pamela Morgan, who started as a barista in Renton, Wash., in 2015, finished high school in 2010. She attended the University of Central Oklahoma for about a year, but, like Burton, she wasn’t eligible for admission to ASU so couldn't take advantage of the online education benefit. Her grades weren’t good enough.

It’s partners like Burton and Morgan for whom Pathway to Admission was created. More than 700 partners who don’t meet Arizona State University’s (ASU) admissions criteria are participating in the preparatory framework, which began earlier this year. Pathway to Admission paves the way for them to work toward entering ASU’s online degree program through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP), a unique partnership between Starbucks and ASU that offers qualifying partners a free ride to college. Nearly 7,500 partners are participating in SCAP, and 726 have graduated since Starbucks and ASU rolled out the plan in 2014.

“We knew that getting a college degree is a key goal for our partners, which is why we started the Starbucks College Achievement Plan in the first place,” said Mary Dixon, SCAP director.

Yet data revealed that one in five partners applying for admission to ASU didn’t meet the rigorous academic criteria. Once that became clear, Starbucks and ASU leadership brainstormed solutions to help remove barriers to partners eager to earn admission. They developed Pathway to Admission, a flexible program that includes personalized course recommendations to meet ASU’s requirements and the ability to take individual or multiple courses depending on a partner’s particular needs. “When we looked at the partner population, we saw that 70 percent are in school or aspiring to be a student,” said Dixon. “We thought about what we can do to help partners be ready and qualified for admission.”

Pathway to Admission simplifies the process of ASU eligibility

Pathway to Admission ensures that partners get the support they need to meet ASU’s admission requirements. The program offers full tuition coverage for partners who don’t meet ASU’s admissions standards to take up to 10 courses to qualify. The program uses ASU’s Global Freshman Academy, which supports prospective students and gives them the opportunity to take first-year university courses and eventually convert them into academic credit.

Before Pathway’s creation, partners who didn’t qualify for ASU had to pay to attend community college in a bid to become eligible for ASU admission. “It’s both expensive and confusing,” said Carolyn Kriss, SCAP program manager. “Partners didn’t know what classes to take. They could waste their time or money as they tried to become admissible to ASU. We thought we could help support them in their path.”

Before starting their academic coursework, partners are able to take advantage of a free course orienting them to the specifics of online learning. Once they earn at least a “C” in a course, partners are able to convert that class for academic credit. If needed to reach the "C" grade, partners can retake the course at no penalty. After meeting academic requirements, partners are able to earn admission into ASU. All Pathway courses can count toward a future ASU degree; partners must pay $49 per course in order to receive college credit.

“Pathway to Admission is designed with the partner in mind,” said Kathryn Scheckel, director of Starbucks Initiatives for EdPlus at ASU. “We’re focused on how to make the transition from prospective college student to SCAP scholar as seamless as possible while helping partners build skills and continue their education goals.”

Through Pathway to Admission, Morgan registered for English Composition I and II, and Intro to Health and Wellness, and earned straight A’s. “I didn’t have the GPA to get into ASU right away,” said Morgan, 25, one of the first six partners who has been accepted to ASU after enrolling in Pathway. “This program allowed me to take a few classes and raise my GPA.”

In June, Morgan participated in a weeklong orientation to familiarize herself with ASU’s online system. It’s different from her in-person experience in Oklahoma but no less rigorous. “You get a little less facetime, but I don’t think of it as a disadvantage,” said Morgan. “We have online discussion boards and office hours where I can talk to professors in real time online.”

Starting in August, Morgan is registered to take Italian and introductory classes towards her Anthropology degree. She intends to pursue a master’s degree and has dreams of working at a history or science museum.

With a degree in hand, Morgan will undoubtedly be better off than had she stopped her education after high school. College graduates are estimated to earn $1 million more than those without a degree over the course of their working lives, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Starbucks’ goal is to help at least 25,000 partners graduate by 2025, and the company has committed an initial $250 million to support the program. Partners have no obligation to remain at Starbucks once they receive their degree.

Flexibility is key to Pathway to Admission’s success

Like the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, Pathway to Admission allows partners to toggle between work and school depending upon the demands of their personal and professional lives. Online college courses offer the ability to earn a degree according to a self-determined schedule. Night owls can study when others are sleeping; early birds can log on to lectures before the sun rises.

For Burton, taking courses online was a better option — easier to manage considering the hours she was spending at work. “Taking classes online gives me the flexibility to have a real life while working and going to school,” said Burton, who also appreciates not having to commute to class from Paso Robles, a small town of 32,000. “It gives me more choices.”

After being admitted into ASU through the Pathways program, Burton began taking classes toward her bachelor’s degree in March, signing up for Media and Society and English composition. When she moved to a new store to help with its opening, she decided to take the summer off to concentrate on work so that life wouldn’t feel quite so chaotic. “I can tailor my school to whatever is going on in my life,” said Burton, a runner who also likes to hike and lift weights when she’s not studying or crafting coffee. She’s now preparing to ramp up her studies again. In August, she’ll enroll in Culture and Health, and Introduction to New Media, with a goal of pursuing a career in advertising and marketing.

Of course, getting admitted to ASU is just the first step. Graduating is the ultimate goal. “It’s not about getting people in but about getting them through,” said Dixon. “This program is about providing a pathway – truly creating the opportunity to realize untapped human potential.”

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