Starting Monday, Nov. 23, Fiat Chrysler dealers nationwide can offer a no-cost college education to employees and their spouses and children -- a perk aimed at attracting top-tier talent to work at FCA stores.
FCA is expanding its [email protected] pilot program that began in May at 356 dealerships in its Southeast region, which encompasses Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama and Tennessee.
The program enables employees in participating dealerships to earn an associate, bachelor's or master's degree in one of about 40 fields of study at Strayer University. Strayer is a private, accredited, for-profit university based in Washington, D.C., with an enrollment of 40,000.
[email protected] is offered to all of FCA's 2,600 U.S. dealerships. FCA said it will offer a second level to interested dealers, opening the program to employees' spouses and dependents.
"To me, this has always been about how do we say thank you and how we take our dealerships to the next level," said Al Gardner, FCA's head of network development. "We need to attract and retain the best talent."
As [email protected] goes national, dealers will be able to participate at two levels, the base [email protected] program that covers all of a dealership's employees, or a [email protected] Work Family plan that also includes employee spouses and children. Both are underwritten in part by FCA.
The students take classes online or at one of Strayer's 77 campuses in 15 states and the District of Columbia.
Students pay nothing for tuition, fees and books. Unlike a similar program announced last year by Starbucks, students will not need to advance money and seek reimbursement.
FCA has about 118,000 employees in its 2,600 dealerships. Any employee of a participating store is eligible to take classes through the program.
The cost to dealers for the two programs is based on the size of their stores. Costs for the employee-only program range from $400 to $1,000 a month. Costs for the [email protected] Family plan are as much as $2,500 more per month, based on dealership size.
"We've already had a number of dealers pre-enroll before our national launch," said John Fox, FCA's director of dealer training. "The next step for us is to really be able to use it as a recruitment tool."
According to Strayer's website, the full cost of a bachelor's degree in business administration at the school is $58,250.
FCA's pilot program in the Southeast drew participation from 121 of the automaker's 356 dealers there. So far, more than 330 dealership employees are working toward their degrees.
"The results have been way better than we thought," said Gardner.
One participating Florida dealer, Randy Dye, told Automotive News last month that about a third of his 130 employees are taking classes through the program.
Dye, 55, owns Daytona Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram, as well as a Fiat store and an off-site Ram showroom in the area. He said he has seen an impact.
"From the recruiting and retention perspective, if you have a middle-aged employee who's struggling to figure out how to pay for college education for their kids, this is the answer," Dye said.
Karl McDonnell, CEO of Strayer Education, which owns Strayer University, said an expansion of [email protected] to cover other dependents will use an infrastructure expansion Strayer completed in 2012.
McDonnell said: "The whole program is designed to leverage our existing infrastructure, but we have the infrastructure to serve up to 100,000 with no additional infrastructure improvements."