The coffee is probably much better at your local Starbucks than at your neighborhood Fiat Chrysler dealer, but the automaker believes it’s got at least one major advantage over the java purveyor that is fabled for its treatment of baristas: its new tuition-payment program for its US dealership employees.
At up to 356 dealers in its Southeast US region, Fiat Chrysler is rolling out a planned nationwide program that pays college tuition up front for dealership employees, all the way through to earning a degree. The company has joined with Strayer University, which has 80 campuses in 24 states and an online program, to provide the classes and the degrees.
Chrysler Brand President and CEO Al Gardner told brandchannel that the Degrees@Work program is better than the much-vaunted college tuition program by Starbucks because Fiat Chrysler is paying upfront the cost of classes each term—typically amounting to a total of $42,000 by the time a student receives a Strayer degree—while Starbucks only reimburses tuition expenses after the fact.
“We have the same theory [as Starbucks] of using this program to attract and retain top talent,” Gardner said. “But there are two reasons people don’t get to college: the time it takes and the cash outlay.
Fiat Chrysler has had a tuition program for its own employees, but concluded there was more the company could do to help its dealers with one of their biggest challenges: attracting and retaining the most qualified employees. Fiat Chrysler wants more capable and informed staffers at dealerships, in part to do a better job in educating consumers about complex vehicle infotainment technology.
Karl McDonnell, president and CEO of Strayer Education, told brandchannel that despite increasing hesitation among millennials about the true economic value of a college education, Fiat Chrysler’s program is a great way to boost its dealership employees. And indeed, by covering the cost of books as well as tuition, Degrees@Work will help dealership employees avoid one of the biggest negatives of the college experience: student debt that can take on crushing proportions.
Strayer is also working with other employers on customized programs. “We want to be part of a national conversation to connect college to employees with customization of content and expanding their reach—and maybe this program with Chrysler can serve as a launching point.”