Dealership employees now can earn an auto-related bachelor's degree from Northwood University using the Internet.
Northwood, with some help from Ford Motor Co., is offering an online degree program that is designed to attract older students working in the automotive retail field.
The program is exclusive to Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealers through August 2004, when it is scheduled to open to other automakers.
Students can earn a bachelor's of business administration in automotive marketing and management.
Northwood, in Midland, Mich., offers the same degree program to on-campus students. As much as 90 percent of degree requirements are available online.
The program will help dealers trying to retain employees who are eager to further their education but are constrained by their working hours, says Jim O'Connor, Ford group vice president for North America marketing, sales and service.
Dealers had sought help from Ford to create an education-oriented retention program, he says.
Dealer employees can customize their course schedule and earn college credits for work experience and Ford-based training.
"It is making the opportunity available for those who otherwise wouldn't have been able to do it," says Craig Stacey, Ford performance management coordinator for retailer education and training.
The average student begins with about two years of college credit, program officials say.
The program will cost about $6,000 a year for the average adult student.
Some dealers may choose to subsidize the tuition for their employees.
Northwood is paying to develop the program although Ford has devoted staff time and promotional materials to dealers.
A Northwood official would say only that the cost of development has topped six figures.