Published on 2012/07/03

Corporate Relationships Are Fundamental to the Success of Academic Programs – Part 1

Opening your institution to corporate partnerships can do more than introduce a new source of revenue. It can impact and improve academic offerings across the board. Photo by Brett Weinstein.

There are great benefits that accrue to academic programs from cultivating, developing and exercising corporate relationships.  These relationships are often originated and maintained by the program director, an associate dean or in some cases individual faculty members. Corporate relationships are useful

  1. To provide sponsorship for adult students to attend your college under corporate educational reimbursement programs;
  2. To provide employment for students once they graduate (and even while they are going to school);
  3. To give constructive feedback to the program administration and faculty on the program’s academic quality, educational goals, relevancy and currency;
  4. To be a source of scholarships;
  5. To supply real world problems for students to solve to enhance their course work;
  6. As a source of experienced adjunct faculty; and
  7. To bring the program on-site by sponsoring whole cohorts of employees to attend the program.

On the HR front, it is important to know the details of the corporate educational reimbursement program of each student going to school part time while working full time.  Often this entails a relationship with the HR manager in each company.  Inquire about the details of the program and make sure the HR manager knows that you know you have their students in your program, which will endear you to the manager. It shows you have the student’s best interest at heart and want to partner with the HR manager in educating his workforce. HR managers will not go out of their way to assist you to enroll more students but they will keep you informed when they sponsor educational fairs at their facility. You may want to consider sending your admissions staff to these corporate events. So it stands to reason you should consider nurturing a relationship with HR managers. But don’t expect too much from them. By the nature of their job they have to be neutral to all colleges, and can’t favor your school above others, so be mindful of this mindset.

Further, having a good relationship with HR managers will also facilitate their participation at your school’s career fairs.  This gives your students a shot at their recruiters when they come on campus. By necessity HR managers restrict their college recruiting to a few colleges they have come to trust to yield good future employees.  Consider how you can become one of those trusted colleges, which is best done by cultivating strong relationships with the HR manager.

Of course it helps if you also have a relationship with a corporate executive at the company. The higher up the ladder the better.  HR managers respond well when an executive colleague who trusts you calls on them to find out how they are helping your college. Thus it is also important to nurture a relationship with corporate executives.

Having a corporate executive be a sponsor of your program yields many additional benefits. A good start is to seek alumni of your program at the target company. Alumni of your program who have risen to high rank will often feel obligated to become your internal corporate champion. Identify and nurture them.  The executive will rightly want to give back to the program that was probably seminal to their career success. Lacking such alumni, look to your own network or to the college President, Provost, VP of Development or other academic executives to connect you to the right corporate executives at the target companies.  Once candidate contacts are identified, one fruitful initial approach at engagement is to ask them to nominate worthy candidates for your program.  One or two nominations per year from among their own mentees who they have been grooming for advancement will do wonders to your relationship with the executive and for your enrollment.

Once connected, ask for the executive’s assistance in expanding the program and in keeping it updated and relevant.   Give them a reason to stay active and to give you feedback.  When engaging them always consider what’s in it for them.  Your program can be a source of graduates they can employ, a place where their employees can get the education they need to stay relevant and productive and advance their careers; and of course, on a personal level for the executive to get satisfaction in giving back.

You might work with some executives to develop financial support for indigent students who don’t work for the company. Some executives are connected to foundations associated with the corporate entity and they can be your entry to this source of funds for scholarships.  The executive might even donate personal or corporate funds, but this is rare.  More likely they will help with your fund-raising campaign.  Don’t forget, any fundraising efforts should be conducted with the approval and under the sponsorship of the college’s development office.

You can also energize your corporate contacts to help set up competitions so students can showcase their new skills.  Some corporations use company sponsored student competitions at participating colleges as a way to observe and recruit the best talent. If your corporate contact does not have such competition programs, suggest it and volunteer to help set one up.  You will gain lasting friends and will reap great rewards.

At the very least, invite your corporate contact to sit on a capstone review board.  They will be thrilled to see the end product of your program and after the presentations give you invaluable feedback on where the students are lacking.  Do not underestimate this feedback.  It also gives your program great cachet with accreditors and it may help fulfill an accreditation requirement for outside program evaluation.

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Readers Comments

Rebecca Cruser 2012/07/06 at 7:04 pm

I love the idea of targetting alumni for professional development, and opens up an interesting conversation on institutional best practice which I think is falling by the wayside: alumni tracking and communication.

Alumni are good for more than just gifts and grants; if you can inspire your alumni to become lifelong learners–to constantly engage with their professional development–you can have tuition income for life!

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