Resources: Starbucks U

First, let me be clear, that I will absolutely sell out to Intelligentsia coffee at any time. The minute they need a higher ed, disability, gender, language, parenting, Red Sox, columnist, I am ready to provide as much paid content as they need. Moreover, I will take my pay in coffee. Or Money. Which I will use to buy coffee.

That said, here’s a new CNN piece on the new Starbucks tuition reimbursement plan that was launched yesterday. I argue.

1. It’s probably a positive benefit for the workers, but the margin is very small. See below and follow links in the piece for why.

2. Despite the great claims from CEO Howard Schultz, ASU President Michael Crow, and Sec. Ed Arne Duncan, it will have no impact on the student debt/college cost crises.

In fact, I suggest, we know what happens when something that should be a right becomes an employee-benefit, because we’ve seen it with healthcare in this country. It leads to increased inequality, intensifyng access issues, and gross inefficiencies.

The analogy between healthcare-as-benefit and its ills and education-as-benefit and its ills is not exact; however, it’s one that Schultz makes in this interview from CNN Money. He touts his company’s role as a disruptor in both cases, claiming widespread social good in both cases. I take that on.

I’m not alone. Here’s three critics. There are many more, some much more pointed than I am.

  • Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, argues that wholly online education is of questionable value for low-income students. If you follow the link, you’ll see a major study on the topic. Goldrick-Rab is also quoted extensively here.
  • Tressie McMillan Cottom links the Starbucks U – ASU alliance to a longer history of shady for-profit practices.
  • I didn’t see this in time to bring into my piece, but Siva Vaidhyanathan noted that, ““Many corporations in America have public tuition assistance plans that vary in value and utility for their employees. This is nothing particularly revolutionary, except that it’s an inside deal with one particularly aggressive institution.” I made a similar argument in my piece. He also says that while ASU Online is pretty good, it’s aggressive trajectory is going to make maintaining that quality difficult.
The one thing I didn’t work in was to cycle back to Arne Duncan and his department’s comment that rating higher education is “like rating a blender.” If you think that the reliance on a corporation to provide education is an aberration, or just a nice thing with no consequences, I’d urge you to think again. 
Education assessment is not like rating a blender. Education affordability is not like buying a latte.

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