Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Offers Free College Degree Program to Dealer Employees and Families

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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is offering free college education to dealership employees and their family members through a new partnership with Strayer University, in a renewed effort to bring in and cultivate talent,

Beginning Monday, the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles program will be available to 180,000 employees at its 2,600 dealerships, which sell Fiat, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles, and their approximately 700,000 family members.

The Italian-U.S. company has teamed up with Virginia-based Strayer University to offer Degrees@Work program. Tuition assistance for employees is rare for the auto industry. Compensation for salespeople, service technicians and others at stores selling new automobiles is usually managed by the dealership owners, while car makers cover pay and benefits for white-collar employees and factory workers.

Al Gardner, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’s head of dealer development said dealers who are trying to keep talented personnel—asked for support in creating a program that allowed employees to help themselves.

A bachelor’s degree at Strayer is valued at $58,000, and dealers must pledge to help fund employees, although Fiat Chrysler would bear most of the cost. While Mr. Gardner didn't reveal the auto maker’s expected costs, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will also shoulder the costs for other levels of education, including a master’s degree.

The annual National Automobile Dealers Association’s study that was released in late October, found annual turnover at dealerships has increased over the last three years. In 2014, people left their jobs at a rate of 39% across all positions, a 3% increase from the previous year.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’s Degrees@Work program comes with its own risks. Employees could take up the program and then move on to another dealer for a higher paycheck or quit the industry altogether. The company started testing the program in May at 130 dealerships.

Karl McDonnell, Strayer Chief Executive said part of the curriculum will be geared toward the requirements of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the auto industry. He said courses include marketing, consumer behavior and information technology.

Other auto dealers also offer education programs.  Starbuck’s offers to cover the cost of four-year degree of all employees who work for more than 20 hours a week through Arizona State University's online program. It extended the coverage to include families of U.S. veteran or active military reservist the company employs. General Motors Co., offers to help employees of dealers gain access to higher education, but doesn’t provide full funding. Earlier in June, health insurer Anthem Inc. started offering a similar program to its 55,000 full and part-time workers.

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