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By Brent Snavely, Detroit Free Press (TNS)

DETROIT — FCA US said Monday it will offer free college courses and degrees to employees who work at its network of franchised auto dealerships when they take them at Strayer University — a move the automaker said is designed to help dealers attract the best employees.

Strayer University, based in Herndon, Va., specializes in adult learning.

“We’ve built a program with Strayer University that will allow a no cost, no debt college education. There is no money out of pocket. Books, any kind of fees — everything is covered,” said John Fox, director of dealer training at FCA US’ performance institute. “I think that is really going to allow our dealers to seek the best talent in their marketplace.”

Strayer University is a post-secondary institution with a more than 120-year history educating working adult students at campus locations across the country and online.

The automaker’s announcement comes about one month after Starbucks launched a similar program for its employees.

Karl McDonnell, CEO of Strayer, predicts more companies will adopt similar programs in the future.

“I do think this is a future model for higher education,” Strayer said. “Companies have all sorts of competitive pressures on them and whichever companies can attract and retain the best people — they are going to win.”

McDonnell said students will be able to choose from about 40 different programs that can lead to an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree. Most of the programs relate to finance, business management, accounting and information technology.

The automaker is sharing the cost to start the program with dealers who elect to participate. Also, the dealers who decide to participate will pay a monthly flat fee, regardless of how many of their employees go for the degree. The company declined to estimate how much it might spend on an annual basis.

Fox said FCA US’s program goes even further than the Starbucks program because there are no upfront costs for the workers.

Another difference is that FCA US’s program is for employees who work at franchised dealerships and are not directly employed by the automaker.

“This is all about trying to help our dealers hire and retain the best people in their marketplace,” Fox said. “We believe a program like this will definitely help us improve the customer experience at the dealerships.”

FCA US said the program was developed based on input from dealers and their employees. Courses offered range from business administration and accounting to education, information systems, and other areas.

(c)2015 Detroit Free Press, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir.

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