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Starbucks Will Now Pay For All Four Years Of Employees' Tuition

The company previously only paid for the last two years. It's part of an extended partnership with Arizona State University Online.

Posted on April 6, 2015, at 6:31 p.m. ET

Mark Lennihan / AP

Starbucks will now pay for all four years of its employees' college tuition at Arizona State University Online, the company announced today, meaning its baristas and others could pay nothing out of pocket for bachelor's degrees at the online school. The company estimates its investment could total $250 million over 10 years.

Last month, Starbucks grabbed headlines after it announced RaceTogether, an initiative to spark discussion about race relations in America, in part by writing "#RaceTogether" on paper latte cups.

The RaceTogether initiative also included plans to hire 10,000 "disenfranchised youth," mainly unemployed black and Latino young people, Starbucks said. The company said today that the free tuition would extend to those "Opportunity Youth" hires.

The initial deal, announced last year, gave students discounted tuition at ASU Online for the first two years of their degree, but fully reimbursed students' out-of-pocket costs as juniors and seniors. Employees can now be reimbursed for all four years — with no commitment to stay working at Starbucks after they have finished.

Several other large corporations have similar, but more limited, programs. Walmart partners with American Public University, a for-profit school that has its roots in educating active-duty service members, but that program amounts to a tuition discount. Amazon pays for its employees to enroll in "high-demand" certificate programs, and McDonalds said last week that it would pay for employees to get their high school diplomas online.

ASU Online is still providing heavily discounted tuition to Starbucks employees, blunting the costs Starbucks will have to shoulder. That "scholarship" is an indication that the school has a lot to gain from the partnership with Starbucks: It is in the midst of a high-growth expansion of its online programs, and the influx of students, publicity, and tuition dollars will be a boon to the school.

ASU is one of several large public universities to try to bolster online enrollment in unconventional ways. The University of Florida recently experimented by accepting 3,000 students who had applied to its physical campus into an online-only program, hoping to boost an online program that had so far been posting tepid enrollment numbers. ASU has said it wants to enroll 100,000 online students in the next five years.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.