by Karin Bonev

June 20, 2014

This post was cowritten by our summer intern, Samantha Tuly.

Starbucks recently announced the addition of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan to its already impressive portfolio of employee benefits. The partnership with Arizona State University will enable Starbucks employees to earn a bachelor’s degree for free through online courses.

It’s a brilliant PR move. Customers who have long loved Starbucks coffees, cappuccinos and iced mochas have the added bonus of knowing that their purchases are helping educate baristas throughout the country – some of whom are the first in their families to obtain a college degree. (Cue images of the American dream.)

But Starbucks knows that the new education plan is a strategic move for its employer brand and ultimately the bottom line. In an interview with Jon Stewart, Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz emphasized that companies need to start “linking shareholder value with value for employees” in order to ensure long-term success.

Employees who receive education and training through their workplace have higher levels of engagement. And what company doesn’t want a more educated and engaged workforce interacting with its customers each and every day? Employees are also more likely to stay, thereby reducing costs associated with turnover. The new education benefit is also a great recruiting tool and will help Starbucks attract the type of talent it needs to ensure great customer service now and in the future.

Last, but not least, the employees who participate in the new education plan will be out in the community and on social channels talking about how their employer is helping them achieve a significant life goal. Wouldn’t we all want these brand ambassadors?

At its foundation, the Starbucks College Achievement Plan will certainly generate goodwill with a variety of audiences. But it’s also part of a strategic business plan and strong employer brand.

Do you think more companies will follow in Starbucks’ footsteps?