Tuition plan gets an A+

INSIGHT: How 7 pioneers are finding ways to stay in front
Jim Click Age: 57 Title: Co-managing director Company: Tuttle-Click Automotive Group Location: Irvine, Calif. Annual revenues: $718,264,198 Stores: Tuttle-Click Ford, Tuttle-Click Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep, Tuttle-Click Dodge, Tuttle-Click Mitsubishi and Tuttle-Click Hyundai in Irvine, Calif.; Tuttle-Click's Tustin Dodge, Tustin, Calif.; Jim Click Ford, Jim Click Lincoln-Mercury Auto Mall, Jim Click Lincoln-Mercury Eastside, Jim Click Mazda Auto Mall, Jim Click Mazda Eastside, Jim Click Hyundai Auto Mall, Jim Click Hyundai Eastside, Jim Click Dodge, Jim Click Nissan, Jim Click Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep and Holmes Tuttle Ford in Tucson, Ariz.; Jim Click Ford-Lincoln-Mercury, Green Valley, Ariz. Franchises: Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, Jeep, Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Hyundai, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan How I come up with my best ideas: "I steal them," Click says, laughing. "Reading your articles (in Automotive News). The idea for offering employees assistance for their children's college tuition came from talking about the problem of paying for college with an employee, Ray Arrebollo."

How many car dealers help put employees' children through school?

At least two.

Tucson, Ariz., dealer Jim Click and his partner, Bob Tuttle, offer many employee benefits, but one of the most popular is the college assistance plan. Employees who have been with the company at least three years qualify for up to $4,000 per child per year.

The benefit covers not only public colleges and universities, but any accredited post-secondary program.

"If a technician's son wanted to go to tech school, it would be covered," said Click, co-managing director of Tuttle-Click Automotive Group of Irvine, Calif., a chain of 18 dealerships in California and Arizona. Click is president of the 12-dealership Arizona operation.

Employees can apply the funds to tuition, books and fees.

In the seven years since the program began, Tuttle-Click has spent more than $547,000 helping 139 employees' children through school.

Click began thinking about college benefits in the late 1980s after talking with one of his mechanics. "He mentioned that his daughter was going to be going to college. He wasn't sure that he was going to be able to help her go," Click said. "I mentioned this to my partner, Bob Tuttle. It just struck a chord with us."

Click mentioned the idea to a friend who ran a bank, and he discovered the bank paid college benefits to its employees' children.

Click "has always been there for the employees, whether it is education or if somebody needs assistance because of a medical problem," said employee Ray Arrebollo. "He's always doing something for employees. He's just a great person."

To qualify, children of employees must be high school graduates. Then they must maintain a college grade point average of 2.0 to remain eligible.

The program is administered for Tuttle-Click by Citizens' Scholar-

ship Foundation of America, a nonprofit group in St. Peter, Minn.

In 2000, Tuttle-Click helped 55 students, who received a total of just over $100,000.

Feedback from employees and their children makes it clear that the program has an impact. One example is a letter Click received recently from Heather Davis, whose mother works for Click in Tucson.

Davis wrote: "When I first expressed to my mother about my dreams of becoming a large-animal veterinarian, she wanted nothing more than to bring my dreams to reality. However, no matter how much she penny-pinched and saved, there was no way that what she did could cover the costs of higher education."

Davis is scheduled to graduate from Arizona State University's Honors College in 2003 and is planning to attend veterinary school. She thanked Click and Tuttle, saying: "By unselfishly giving of yourselves to students like myself, you are providing a light of hope."

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