howard schultz
Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz speaks during the company's annual shareholder's meeting in Seattle, Washington March 18, 2015. Starbucks plans to expand its college tuition benefits program for its employees. Reuters/David Ryder

Starbucks Corp. announced on Monday that it would expand its college tuition assistance program to cover the entire cost of a four-year online bachelor’s degree. The move marks a major expansion of the company’s previous commitment.

Since last June, Starbucks has been offering tuition coverage to juniors and seniors in partnership with Arizona State University as part of its "Starbucks College Achievement Plan." The new move would extend the program to cover the entire four years to its partners for a bachelor’s degree through ASU’s online program.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said the company expects to spend at least $250 million over the next decade on tuition for at least 25,000 employees, and said the benefit had been requested by the company's employees.

"The unfortunate reality is that too many Americans can no longer afford a college degree, particularly disadvantaged young people, and others are saddled with burdensome education debt," he said in a statement.

The benefit is offered to Starbucks employees working 20 or more hours a week, which means about 80 percent of the company’s U.S. workforce is eligible for the program, according to Reuters. The students are not obligated to complete their degree program or stay with the company after earning their diploma.

ASU’s online diploma program is considered one of the best in the country, earning the spot of eighth best online bachelor’s program in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking.

The latest announcement comes at a time when other food and retail outlets, including McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, are raising wages and improving benefits in order to compete for workers.

The company has also committed to hiring 10,000 “opportunity youth” -- those between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not currently at work or in school -- as part of its "Race Together" campaign through which it aims to address race relations in the U.S.

Schultz told Reuters that he would be open to extending the benefits to cover the cost of master’s degrees in the future.