Newsmakers

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz Promises Oprah Chai Follow-up

Newsmakers

Even as he was making a major announcement about a new benefit for his employees, Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz promised another product rollout just a few months after debuting Oprah Chai Tea.

“This is just the beginning of the partnership between Starbucks and Oprah,” Schultz said. “Stay tuned for the next one.”

The drink is just one of the offerings that Starbucks’ 135,000 employees in the United States prepare. More than 70 percent of those employees are students or those who want a college education.

So Starbucks hopes it can help make that happen. Calling it “the most historic thing we’ve ever done,” Schultz announced college tuition reimbursement for its employees. The “Starbucks College Achievement Plan” is a partnership with Arizona State University through which Starbucks employees – full and part-time -- can sign up for online undergraduate courses.

“It’s no doubt that in the last three years it’s been a fracturing of the American dream,” Schultz said. “So many people are being left behind. And specifically, when you look at debt of college students, over a trillion dollars, and the rising cost of college tuition.”

Starbucks employees must first get admitted into ASU. Those who already have enough college credits at the junior or senior level will get full tuition reimbursement to complete a bachelor’s degree. Those with a few credits or just starting out will get partial tuition supplemented with need-based financial aid for two years.

Many employers do already provide various education benefits for their employees, but Starbucks is the first corporation to roll out such a large plan, and also not require employees to stay with the company once they complete their degrees. Starbucks already provides healthcare benefits and stock options for all of its employees, whom it calls partners.

“We are making a significant investment in our people,” Schultz said. “We have demonstrated over many years that shareholder value is linked to value for our people … You just can’t build a great, enduring company and leave your people behind,” Schultz said.

Watch the video above to see Schultz talk about the price of your latte, the first time he tasted coffee and what he orders at Starbucks.

ABC News’ Brian Fudge contributed to this episode.

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