Published on 2012/09/24

Corporate Clients as a Valuable Market for Continuing Education Units

When a higher education institution provides programming for the corporate market, they create a number of advantages for both themselves and their client.

Operating an auxiliary enterprise such as the Continuing Education division of a large public university can be very challenging. There are many decisions to be made and so many different expectations to manage that work; emotions can go from being painfully frustrating in the morning to incredibly rewarding by days end. It is a field that promotes a product that, in bad economic times, can be seen either as a necessity or as a luxury depending on your perspective. It feels like a business of extremes.

One way to avoid being perceived as a luxury, but rather as a contributing partner is by subscribing to a philosophy of staying keenly tuned to your customers’ needs so that you can add value and remain relevant.

There has been plenty of press lately addressing the need for worker training and re-training in different industries. You hear it over and over as part of this election year’s rhetoric. One of the most vocal has been the Information Technology sector. A recent study conducted by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum tried to define the gap between the talent supply chain and needs of the businesses in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in Florida. The study identified a shortage of workers having the needed IT technical knowledge or skills as the “greatest retention challenge”. Coincidentally, they also found that only 35% of all businesses interviewed had a relationship with an educational institution[1].

With this information as a starting point, it seems logical for higher education organizations to actively support corporations within and outside of their community. Not only is there a need already expressed but there is the potential for long lasting synergy.

Some of the potential benefits to the corporate unit include but are not limited to:

  • Access to qualified training – Downturns in the economy affects continuing education providers and corporations. It is a well-known fact that in lean times training and education departments are some of the first areas to feel the budget impact. Continuing education units can step in to fill this gap by providing the company the necessary knowledge in a cost effective way
  • Focus on mission specific and relevant information – By working with corporate clients, training and development can be designed with and delivered to intact teams within the organization
  • Synergy – Working with corporations expands both the company and the CE department’s experience and builds a stronger, longer lasting relationship. We can all use more trusted partners vested in our success
  • Efficiency and convenience – Training can be done on site

Significant benefits to the Continuing Education Unit include but are not limited to:

  • Potentially higher number of registrants
  • Stronger brand and relationship building
  • Higher impact on the community by assisting high profile organizations
  • Simpler logistics to handle, usually one point of contact
  • Building a stream of potential future customers
  • Deeper understanding of corporate needs which translates to more relevant programs
  • More relevant programs can be offered to open enrollment audiences

In conclusion, I would submit that corporate clients need to be an important component of a healthy and sustainable client base for any higher education continuing education organization, maybe even more critical during tight budget times.

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[1] Draft of IT Workforce Survey Findings, August 2012, Patricia K. Gehant, Director Workforce Study

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Readers Comments

Cindy Chao 2012/09/24 at 5:34 am

One of the overarching points I think is that higher education institutions need to start looking at corporate partnerships through a long-term lens, rather than in terms of immediate costs and returns.

Many of the advantages you’ve noted here–both for the corporation and for the CE unit–are longer-term advantages that will pay off over the course of years.

Have you found it difficult to ensure that your bosses see this long-term advantage when signing off on short-term costs? How do you allay the fears of short-term loss in the name of long-term gain?

    Manuel 2012/10/01 at 11:05 am

    Ms. Chao you are absolutely right. I think by now most people have felt the impact of short-term actions, it’s not sustainable. This is magnified when dealing with corporations because the risks are too high in terms of time, resources and reputation.

    In response to your question, here’s how we have addressed it: first, for us the costs are fairly similar whether we are working with open enrollment programs or with corporations, but the payoff is much higher with corporate. Second, the conversation with upper management has always been about an “investment in program growth” not in terms of “costs”. You have to believe your work makes a difference otherwise it’s just semantics. Lastly, there’s no substitute for success as a tool to gain your administration’s support (show me the money analogy). Build the partnerships one company at a time. Hope this helps.

Emily Cross 2012/09/27 at 1:01 pm

It’s interesting that we’re talking about short-term costs and long-term gains in the context of program development. It’s really difficult when you’re making such an argument both to your bosses and to your clients simultaneously.

    Manuel 2012/10/01 at 11:16 am

    Very interesting comment. Can you tell me more please?

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