The Starbucks Generation

The Starbucks Generation

Millennials. We’re the generation that’s been slammed in the media for our sense of entitlement, our lack of gumption, and our inability to grasp the fact that the “real world” is vastly different from the safe confines created for us by our parents.

Starbucks to the Rescue

When I picked up a recent issue of my favorite magazine – The Atlantic – I was intrigued by the The Atlantic: The Upwardly Mobile Barista, about Starbucks’ recent partnership with Arizona State to help finance its employees’ college education. “Brilliant!” I thought, “What a way for Starbucks to give back to its workforce.” (Confession: my mother and I are once-a-day latte people, and have quite the relationship with our local baristas – to the point that they actually took me out for my last birthday.) What I didn’t expect to feel upon the conclusion of Amanda Ripley’s article was a sense that – perhaps – Starbucks and Arizona State are merely perpetuating the problems Millennials like myself are facing when it comes to cutting the proverbial cord.

Throughout the article, Ripley interviews both academic professionals, Starbucks executives, and the company’s employees to examine exactly what about the coffee company’s new program is so transformative. Hint: it’s not the promise of free education, although that is a key perk. Rather, for many of the Starbucks-employees-cum-undergrads, it boils down to support. The following passage really encapsulates my concerns:

“It’s not just about ‘Send me to college,’” says one high-ranking Starbucks exec. “It’s about providing support along the way, at every step.”

This so-called “support along the way, at every step” sounds a lot to me like hand-holding. It sounds to be like coddling. It sounds to me like we’re failing to give these students the skills that they will most definitely need at the next level.

I know I’m not the right “audience” for this kind of message. I went to a high school with a rigorous college prep program and access to guidance counselors; both my parents are college grads, so they brought their experiences to the table as well. But once I got to college – a prestigious East Coast university – I was largely on my own to wade through course catalogs, negotiate my time management skills, and register for courses in a timely manner. Nobody was there to hold my hand, and you know what? When I graduated, I was significantly more self-sufficient than when I started.

What made college so important for me wasn’t the shiny degree. It was – for the first time in my life – getting the chance to tackle these real world problems without someone looking over my shoulder and checking my work. It was the first major step in becoming an adult, and the responsibility I took on helped me grow into a person more equipped to handle the demands of the jobs my education was preparing me for post-graduation.

I applaud Starbucks – and Arizona State – for making college more accessible from a financial standpoint for thousands of people. The privilege is well-deserved, and the company’s intentions honorable. But I can’t help but wonder if all the “support along the way” will have unintended consequences, further enabling a generation of Millennials to look to someone else to solve their own problems.

Libby Balke

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

One thought on “The Starbucks Generation

  • August 26, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    I think you couldn’t be more right! This article is on point and while I admire what they’re doing, your description has me thinking in a way I hadn’t thought before. It does seem like more hand-holding that could create more problems down the road, but only time will tell! Great insight!


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