There was a time when a cup of coffee would run you 35 cents, and a college education could be had for a couple thousand dollars a year.
Now a latte costs three bucks plus change, and college can cost you more than $100,000.
On Monday, Starbucks announced it’ll help employees foot the bill for a degree.
It’ll pick up a portion—sometimes a large one—of the tab for online classes at Arizona State University. Even for employees working part time.
Listening to the Starbucks webcast today was a little like those Publishers Clearing House ads, where they give a really big check to an unsuspecting, overwhelmed winner.
One current employee stood to tell her story: “I started out as a barista and now I’m a store manager,” she said. “And when we heard the news, on the news, my daughter started jumping up and down and said 'Finally, you can graduate.'”
Yes, it was emotional.
But, this is not all about feel good, corporate citizenship. It’s also good business.
“Starbucks will certainly attract better employees,” said Zeynep Ton, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management.
Becoming a barista is likely to get a whole lot more competitive. This sort of benefit will lure exactly the sort of employee Starbucks wants--young and highly motivated.
“They are competing for the cream of the crop of low-wage workers,” said Maureen Conway, Vice President at the Aspen Institute.
And Starbucks isn’t the only company looking to sweeten the pot for its workers, even its part timers. FedEx, UPS and others offer tuition reimbursement. Gap raised its minimum wage this year.
But not all employers feel the need to compete for the best of the best. “Some employers are willing to get what they can get for the lowest wage they can pay,” said Elizabeth Malatestinic, a professor at the Indiana University's *Kelley School of Business in Indianapolis.
At some level, she says, the decision comes down to the culture of the business.
And it's a lot cheaper for Starbucks to help employees get degrees, than it is for Starbucks to pay employees enough to afford the ever higher cost of college.
As many as half a million people have fled Mosul, one of Iraq’s largest cities, after violence instigated by ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) rocked the country's north. Most of the refugees have been heading up to the Iraqi city of Erbil, because it is currently the safest place to go to. Refugees are also coming into Erbil from Syria and several other Iraqi cities.
Despite the takeover, many of the internal refugees began heading back to Mosul after just a few days. BBC Correspondent Rami Ruhayem says their biggest fear was an attack from the Iraqi army and not the Islamic military.
Although Mosul is facing some economic problems with the military invasion, like high gas prices and supply shortages, Ruhayem says it’s hard to verify how bad the situation really is.
"The people we spoke to that are going back say it’s OK," says Ruhayem. "They say they have nothing to fear as civilians from the militants. They only feared an Iraqi army assault in order to chase the militants out, and they also said services were OK."
The possibility of things getting worse in Mosul and the rest of Iraq is there. But how will the Kurdish Provincial Government handle all of the displaced people?
"They’re actually doing a really good job of handling it. And it’s probably because of the organization, security and the prosperity that this province is enjoying in very sharp contrast to the rest of Iraq," says Ruhayem.
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It’s a fine line, the one between economic development and gentrification. A fine line and one that’s wrought with tension, even when it comes to the seemingly rarefied world of golf.
Washington, D.C. is home to three federally owned public golf courses: Langston Golf Course, East Potomac Golf Course, and Rock Creek Golf Course. They’re property of the National Park Service, but run on concessions contracts by a private company.
They’re also affordable, which is why men like Charlie Greene and John Gwinn have been coming to Langston for decades.
“I been playing here for, what, 50 or 60 years,” says Greene, one Friday morning.
Langston, with its long history of African-American golf, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The two men have a regular game here, and Gwinn has been winning lately.
“But that’s gonna change today,” Greene laughs.
The victor may change, but Greene wants everything else about this course to stay the same. Right now he can play 18 holes for 18 bucks.
Though he says he wouldn’t mind better cart paths. And maybe more sand in the sand traps. But that’s it.
“Cause if they make it Augusta,” he says, “they’re gonna price it out of my range.”
He’s talking about an idea proposed by some city councilmembers to study a redevelopment of Langston that would turn it into a PGA Championship Golf Course, with a AAA Four Diamond restaurant and adjoining wine bar. (Not to mention a nearby water park, domed stadium, multimedia soundstage, hotels, and so on.)
D.C.’s lone congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, thinks all the courses need work.
“It’s like seeing all these jewels on the ground and saying, ‘Why doesn’t someone pick ‘em up and do something with them? They’re valuable,” she says.
Her idea is to transform the East Potomac Course, with its monument views, into a world-class course, with fees to match. She’s introduced a House bill asking for a feasibility study.
“It probably could cater to the lobbyists and the other rich people who come here because the Congress is here,” she says.
They’d fly in. Lobby, lobby, lobby. And at the end of the day, they’d head out and fork out for a round of golf. Norton thinks higher fees at East Potomac could basically subsidize the other two courses, keeping them affordable for middle-class golfers. Right now, capital improvements are paid for by the contractor who runs the courses.
On the putting green at East Potomac, golfer Butch Duvall says he doesn’t think a world-class upgrade would physically work. But he definitely doesn't want to get priced out if it did. Even the new publicly accessible Jack Nicklaus course that just opened in Virginia is too rich for his blood.
"Love Jack. Love golf," he says -- but not at $95 a round.
Right now these are all just ideas about sustainability and how to use the city’s assets. (Washington’s chief financial officer doesn’t even think the city can afford to study the councilmembers’ redevelopment proposal.)
But beyond all that, does it even make sense to build a trophy course in today’s golf economy?
Jim Koppenhaver of Pellucid Corp, which advises golf clients, says not really.
“We’ve overbuilt what we call premium, penal, and pristine courses in the country,” he says.
In other words, he says there are already too many immaculate, difficult courses that are pricey to maintain and play. Americans are playing 50 million fewer rounds of golf than they did in 2000. So Koppenhaver says supply should be built in line with what the average golfer wants: fun.
“The majority of them, they enjoy golf for the challenge of it, they enjoy it for its outdoors, they enjoy it for the social experience,” he says. “And they somehow tolerate the fact that you’re never gonna be very good at it.”
Unless you spend a lot of time on it. The question for D.C. is how much money golfers will spend along the way.