For Strayer—which already enjoys partnerships with other companies—the move could mean thousands of more students enrolled at its online or physical campuses. For FCA, it represents a notable investment in its affiliated employees and a welcome mat to the franchise workers of rival automakers in search of better employee and family benefits.
The program for employees, called Degrees@Work, is now available to all of FCA’s 2,600 dealerships. To participate, the dealership pays the manufacturer a monthly rate based on a sliding scale that takes into account the size of the dealer’s workforce. The smallest dealerships—those that sell 400 to 500 vehicles a year—pay about $500 a month for all its employees to take advantage of the Strayer degree program. The largest dealerships, which can sell 6,000 vehicles a year, pay slightly less than $1,000 a month. Dealerships that want to offer the Degrees@Work Family program would pay roughly three times the amount they would for the employee-only benefit, said Alistair Gardner, who oversees dealer network development for FCA of North America, adding that enrollment in the Degrees@Work employee program is higher than the company had originally anticipated.
Before going national, the employee benefits were rolled out regionally in the Southeastern United States, where more than a third of the roughly 350 dealerships have signed up since May. In that time, several hundred FCA employees have enrolled, said Karl McDonnell, the CEO of Strayer Education, which owns Strayer University. The university even overhauled portions of its curriculum across its several dozen academic programs to provide sales and business case studies that are directly relevant to the automotive industry.
“The very early read is that they’re faring incredibly well in the classroom, which means they’re accumulating credits,” said McDonnell, who noted the FCA students are performing “better than our average student on just about every metric that we look at.” “It remains to be seen what the future holds,” he continued, “but I think we all agree that given the generosity of the benefit, we would expect over time that this will be thousands of employees participating ... across the country.”
Previous studies have calculated that just 5 percent of employees take advantage of their employer’s college-education plans, though it’s likely participation in this program will be higher given its perks. Whether smaller firms can follow suit is hard to predict, Robert Kelchen, a scholar of higher education at Seton Hall University, said in a previous interview, because programs like these typically require both large companies and sizeable education institutions to make the economics work.
Ben Miller, the senior director for postsecondary education at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said in a phone interview that Strayer probably benefits more than FCA does from this arrangement. “We know right now that two of the biggest challenges facing for-profits are [that] acquisition costs for students are rather high [finding students and getting them to enroll], and they’re bumping up against 90/10 problems because they cannot find people who can pay out of pocket.”