In conversations with the company's Armed Forces Network and with other military employees, Starbucks realized many of its veterans weren't using the benefit because they either already had a college degree or planned to pay for college through the G.I. Bill. They wanted to know whether they could share the benefit with someone in their family.
"There's a benefit from this as a recruitment tool as well," Gemperle said. "It allows our veterans to look across their family's goals in the way that's most meaningful to them."
The new perk will allow Starbucks employees to gift the tuition coverage — a collaboration with Arizona State University that is made up of scholarships from ASU, financial aid and reimbursements from Starbucks — a single time to a spouse or child.
Even if many Starbucks military employees are not using the tuition perk for their own education, veterans or reservists can receive the benefit for themselves and for one other family member. For instance, employees who don't have a degree and want to save their G.I. Bill benefits for a master's program could use the Starbucks tuition benefit for their undergraduate years and cover a family member's college costs at ASU as well.
The announcement comes as other companies extend more benefits to employees' family members. Last week, Amazon said its employees would be able to share their unused paid parental leave with a spouse or partner who does not receive a similar benefit themselves. (Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)
"I think that there is a broadening consciousness from employers to say ... that we need to look creatively at what the most relevant offerings are," Gemperle said. "At Starbucks, quite simply, we spend a lot of time talking about both [employees'] personal and professional aspirations."
The extended tuition perk was just one piece of veteran-related news from the coffee company. As part of the announcement, Starbucks also said it is beginning a program to pay active duty and military reservists for up to 80 hours of service each year, a benefit many companies already offer. It announced plans to grow its number of "military family stores" — outposts near military bases managed by veterans with a special focus on military issues — as well as other initiatives and promotions for Veterans Day, which is Wednesday.
Starbucks also provided an update on its commitment, made in November 2013, to hire 10,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years. Two years later, the company reported it has hired more than 5,500 veterans and military spouses. More than 95 percent of those hired are in retail jobs, such as barista and district manager positions; many of the others work in supply-chain management or in the company's roasting plants.
Starbucks is just one of many companies that have made commitments to fill its ranks with veterans in recent years. In May, Comcast NBCUniversal said it would hire 10,000 reservists, veterans and their spouses or domestic partners between 2015 and 2017. In 2013, Wal-Mart said it would guarantee a job offer to any eligible veteran who was honorably discharged from active duty, and it now projects it will hire 250,000 veterans by 2020. Accenture, Bank of America and AT&T have all made veteran-hiring pledges.
Such efforts may be one reason the job outlook for veterans has improved notably. According to the most recent jobs numbers announced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday, unemployment for all veterans reached a seven-year low, falling to 3.9 percent in October from 4.5 percent last year and 6.9 percent two years ago. The jobless rate overall was essentially unchanged, at 5 percent.