Published on 2015/08/13
The EvoLLLution | Public-Public Partnerships: Challenges, Opportunities and Pitfalls
Before entering into a major partnership with public organizations, higher education institutions need to ensure they can meet the specific requirements of such agreements and have the capacity to serve this unique audience.

Expanding demand by globalized market forces for a highly skilled and educated workforce, coupled with flat or declining budgets at many higher education institutions, is probably the greatest systemic challenge that higher education institutions face in today’s world.

This has placed pressure on higher education institutions to juggle the need to expand, to attract new students, and to find alternate strategies for increasing revenue. The strategy of increasing revenue takes many forms, from seeking external federal and private grants and contracts, to the design of innovative approaches, to the delivery of education in the form of distance education by partnering with private businesses or governmental entities. However, a public-public partnership in higher education poses its own challenges, opportunities and pitfalls. This article addresses some of these issues by examining a launch of a non-traditional program in a large municipal setting.

In the pursuit of seeking alternate sources of revenue and providing greater access to a non-traditional population, many higher education institutions encounter perils that require closer attention from administrators and faculty. These issues are discussed below.

  1. Public-Public or Public-Private Partnerships

Partnering with many public agencies requires a Memorandum of Understanding or Space Use Agreement where both parties indemnify any form of liability. In many cases, higher education institutions, with limited exposure and experience in this form of partnerships, find indemnity clauses unacceptable. This could lead to the termination of any form of partnership. This suggests that higher education institutions should internally establish and develop an understanding of the terms of indemnification, and maintain a clear policy and understanding so partnering contractual agreements move forward smoothly.

  1. Regional accreditation and financial aid requirements

Many institutions do not recognize the fact that many regional accrediting bodies maintain strict rules on the scope and distance that many higher education institutions can go in order to establish partnerships. In many cases, the accrediting institutions have seen abandonment of various sites by higher education institutions due to lack of sufficient enrollment or fluctuation of enrollment.

This requires the educational institutions to establish a clear internal policy and tuition rate so that reduction in student enrollment will not affect the business continuity plan and successful completion of the program. Also, federal financial aid guidelines require accrediting body approval for the site prior to authorization of federal financial aid for the particular site. This is a crucial step that requires a coordinated effort between various parties, and it should be initiated by the higher education institution.

  1. Capacity at the campus

Many higher education institutions seek the expansion of their existing academic programs without consideration for the administrative as well as academic capacity in providing quality education and effective administrative support. Academic quality requires the faculty to understand mid-career adults and their unique perspectives and needs, as well as academic relevance in the subject matter. Faculty should move away from solely teaching theory and they should adopt real-world cases, examples and practices, which provide a unique perspective to the mid-career professionals.

  1. Marketing Capacity

The adage of “if you build it, they will come” does not apply to mid-career students. Mid-career adults have very busy lives, thus outreach to them requires unique marketing strategies. This includes such tactics as workplace informational sessions, attendance at professional conferences, and meetings in order to describe and explain the details of the program.

  1. Admission and Records

Many university admission offices function based on traditional admission cycles. Timetables for review of transcripts and admission applications are governed by an undergraduate mindset. In the case of mid-career adults with higher levels of expectations in customer service, the traditional model and cycles of admission are antithetical to the launch of successful programs, particularly at distant off-campus sites.


In conclusion, the key element in a successful launch of public-public partnerships in higher education requires capacity building at the back end prior to entering the marketplace. There should also be centralized leadership to guide and strategize daily operations.

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Readers Comments

Erin Samuels 2015/08/13 at 4:28 pm

Memoranda of Understanding are so important and we don’t talk about them nearly enough. Like any contract, the amount of time spent on the details early on and the headaches of negotiation are pay serious dividends later on when everyone is confident they’re on the same page.

Rob G. 2015/08/14 at 9:26 am

There are so many factors to consider in forging a new partnership and in this climate the risk are getting bigger and bigger. As much as we complain about accrediting bodies being slow to respond and sometimes out of touch, in many ways we rely on them to help manage that risk.

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