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Employer Update: How FCA US LLC and Its Dealers Built a No-Cost College Degree Benefit Program

By removing upfront costs and partnering with Strayer University to tailor degree programs to busy work adults, the automaker found early success and return on investment through employee retention.

Recently, I joined business leaders at an event on employer talent investment hosted by UpSkill America, the Lumina Foundation and the Business Champions Supporting Credential Completion. I was honored to speak at the event and share what we’ve learned at FCA US LLC in the last year while building a program to provide no-cost, no-debt degrees to our dealership employees and their families.

In May of 2015, FCA US announced we were teaming up with Strayer University to offer a first-of-its kind employee tuition assistance program, Degrees@Work. Through the program, initially launched in our Southeast business region, our dealership employees would be able to attend Strayer University to earn an associate, bachelor’s and or master’s degree of their choice.

Degrees@Work was a response to many of our dealers expressing concern over the availability of talent to fill open positions due to business growth and turnover in their stores, especially in metro markets. In an industry notorious for high employee turnover, our goal was to position our dealer network as the ’employers of choice.’

We chose Strayer University due to their long history of providing education tailored to working adults who are often returning to college after some time in the workforce. That experience, coupled with Strayer’s wide-reach through their online programs and 78 campuses nationwide, made them a natural choice. Working with Strayer, we designed a program with several unique components. First, we supply success coaches, who help employees who have been away from education for a while – or may struggle for other reasons – to adapt to the program and succeed. Second, we built-in an option for employees to enroll in curriculum customized to our dealers’ business models, so case studies and examples in course work are instantly relatable and skills learned Monday can be put to work on Tuesday. Third, we’ve harnessed Strayer University’s expertise in working with adult students to create flexibility in the degree programs offered to our employees.

When building Degrees@Work, it was also important to us that unlike other corporate tuition assistance programs, employees were not required to pay large tuition sums up-front in hopes of being reimbursed later, and also that employees were not limited on the types of degree programs they could enroll in.

Our initial launch in our Southeast region was a huge success. More than 100 dealers signed on immediately and we saw strong employee enrollment numbers for the summer term that started soon after our announcement.

After this initial success, we continued with our plan to roll-out Degrees@Work nationwide. In the process of doing so, we thought – what more can we do? Could this program be even better? We found it could. In November, when we expanded the program nationwide, we announced an additional, unprecedented benefit – not only could all dealership employees receive a no-cost degree but also now so could their immediate family members. Families are often faced with tough choices about how to pay for college; we found our program expansion could alleviate some of that stress for our employees.

Degrees@Work and Degrees@Work Family continue to be successful and we’ve received positive feedback from employees and their family members. Since the program launch, we’ve seen high employee retention across our dealerships and have also attracted talented candidates to come work for us due to the Degrees@Work benefit.

Programs like this one are important to FCA but also to our nation and our economy. It is imperative that higher education and employers work together to maintain a skilled, competitive, American workforce. I’m proud to work for a company that understands the value that can be gained by investing in the American employee and American families.

I look forward to continuing to share our learnings from this important program with like-minded business leaders. Together, we can have a profound impact on the way Americans work, learn and contribute to the continued growth of our nation.

John Fox is Director of Dealer Training Shared Services, FCA Performance Institute, FCA US LLC

About FCA US LLC
FCA US LLC is a North American automaker with a new name and a long history. Headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan, FCA US is a member of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (FCA) family of companies. FCA US designs, engineers, manufactures and sells vehicles under the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram and FIAT brands, as well as the SRT performance vehicle designation. The company also distributes the Alfa Romeo 4C model and Mopar products. FCA US is building upon the historic foundations of Chrysler, the innovative American automaker first established by Walter P. Chrysler in 1925; and Fiat, founded in Italy in 1899 by pioneering entrepreneurs, including Giovanni Agnelli.

FCA, the seventh-largest automaker in the world based on total annual vehicle sales, is an international automotive group. FCA is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “FCAU” and on the Mercato Telematico Azionario under the symbol “FCA.”