DETROIT -- Fiat Chrysler's plan to offer free college educations to employees of its U.S. dealerships will enable retailers to attract and keep high-performing employees, the chairman of the FCA US Dealer Council said.
"Dealers are always looking for a way to keep good people in their organization," said Jim Arrigo, who owns five FCA dealerships in Florida. "This program will also help in hiring people who may be thinking about going to school but they need to work. Finding out that they can work at an [FCA] dealership and get an education at the same time would be a great positive."
The program, announced by FCA US last week, offers employees at participating dealerships a no-cost, no-debt education. FCA US and its dealers will pay for individual classes and associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs at Strayer University in about 40 fields of study.
The voluntary program is available in the 356 dealerships in FCA US' southeast region of Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama and Tennessee. It will expand to the company's other eight U.S. regions in the third quarter. About 118,000 dealership employees will be eligible.
"The No. 1 thing dealers tell us is that the hardest thing they do is attract talent, develop talent and maintain talent," said Al Gardner, the newly appointed head of FCA US' dealer network. "What we've tried to do here is give the dealerships a lever that no one else has."
Strayer University is a private, for-profit accredited university based in Washington, D.C., with an enrollment of 40,000. It offers classes online and at 77 campuses in 15 states and the District of Columbia.
Students working at participating FCA US dealerships will pay no out-of-pocket costs for tuition, fees or books. Unlike a similar program announced last year by Starbucks, students will not need to advance the money and seek reimbursement. Any employee of a participating dealership -- lot attendant, service tech, sales representative, general manager -- is eligible to take classes through the program.
John Fox, FCA US' director of dealer training, said the automaker will work with Strayer to make sure that a student's previous college classes, life experiences or both will transfer toward a degree.
Karl McDonnell, CEO of Strayer Education, which owns the university, said it has educational arrangements with about 300 Fortune 1000 companies, but all are smaller than its arrangement with FCA US.
"Part of what we've done internally is stood up an entire dedicated team to work on this," McDonnell said. "We have a team to work with employees to matriculate them into the university. And every one of these students will have an individual success coach."
Gardner said the typical cost of a four-year degree at Strayer is between $42,000 and $50,000, and that FCA US' deal is much less. He declined to specify the cost but said it would be a significant competitive advantage for FCA US dealers.