“Tying health care to employment was arguably one of the greatest failures of public policy in U.S. history. We should learn from this experience rather than replicate it,” argues Geoffrey Cox of Stanford University. “Linking access [to college] more closely to employment could well exacerbate a vicious cycle that is already unacceptable.”

Can Starbucks Save the Middle Class?

OPINION By Geoffrey M. Cox AUGUST 01, 2019, Chronicle of Higher Education

A number of large employers have garnered praise recently for creating higher-education benefits for their employees in partnership with one or more universities. For example, Starbucks has established a program through Arizona State University; Walmart has partnered with several institutions, including the University of Florida, Brandman University, and Bellevue University; and Peet’s Coffee has an arrangement through Oregon State University. Arizona State is planning to create a for-profit subsidiary to broker employer-university partnerships on an even larger scale.

These programs have generally been seen as both innovative and enlightened; they provide evidence that employers are willing to invest in their workers — many of whom are at entry-level, low-skill jobs — and that universities are developing new ways to expand access and respond to the needs of the work force. At first glance, arrangements such as these appear to deliver benefits to everyone concerned. Employers gain from more stable and better-educated workers; employees gain access to educational programs they might not otherwise have; and universities hungry for revenue gain a new wholesale business model to supplement the traditional retail approach.

While it is easy to appreciate both the good intentions and the opportunities represented by these arrangements, we should be concerned if they become the new standard pathway to college. Doing so could replicate the problems created decades ago when access to health care became linked to employment.

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