Starbucks will offer free college tuition to the children and spouses of its employees who have served in the military, the company announced on Monday.
The program broadens the coffee chain's College Achievement Plan initiative, first introduced June 2014, which provides tuition-free education at Arizona State University for former and current members of the U.S. armed forces. More than 4,000 Starbucks workers have already signed up, the company said.
However, some Starbucks employees suggested that the program could be expanded to meet their families' needs. Veterans can already obtain bachelor's degrees through the 71-year-old G.I. Bill, so they wanted to transfer the employee benefit to their families, company spokeswoman Laurel Harper told The Huffington Post.
"Our veterans shared with us that the benefit is generous, but many weren't taking advantage of it because they had already pursued a bachelor's degree," Harper said in an email. "That's when we began the work with Arizona State University to enhance the benefit to make it more relevant to our veteran and active duty partners."
Starbucks also announced that it has surpassed the halfway mark on its goal to hire 10,000 service members by 2018. About 5,500 Starbucks employees are former and current members of the armed forces, according to the company.
“We have a responsibility as a nation to honor our veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice, but it goes beyond saying thank you -- we must put our thanks into action and collectively help those who are making the transition from military to civilian life,” said Howard Schultz, Starbucks' chief executive and chairman, in a press release.
“Not only do we have a moral duty to engage veterans once they leave the service, we know that doing so in a meaningful way will ultimately strengthen our nation,” he added.
This Veterans Day, active duty service members, reservists, veterans and military spouses can visit their local Starbucks for a free tall brewed coffee.
Last year, the average unemployment rate for U.S. veterans was around 6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, and it has dropped to about 5 percent this year. It's comparable to the national unemployment rate, which is also hovering around 5 percent.