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Corporate Relationships Are Fundamental to the Success of Academic Programs – Part 2

By allowing businesses and executives to have a positive influence on academic operations, colleges and universities can do a lot to modernize the ivory tower. Photo by Alfoeldi0815.

This is the continuation of last week’s article, in which I introduced the seven reasons engaging in corporate relationships enriches higher education institutions.

As a reminder, those reasons are:

  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.

If the educational content of your program touches directly on the business of the corporate contact, you can explore setting up on-site versions of the program. As an example, let’s say you have a master’s degree in chemistry that some employees of a local pharmaceutical lab are attending part-time. Ask your students to connect you with their supervisor, preferably an executive. Develop a relationship by asking the executive to sit on your advisory board and then to attend or judge capstone presentations. Eventually you will find yourself and the executive planning how you can bring your chemistry program into their plant and recruit periodic cohorts of chemists.

Your corporate contact will see the benefit of tailoring the program to their specific industry, business and product set. Such on-site programs sometimes become a fixture at a corporation and they run for years. But more often they do not run more than two or three cohorts until the pipeline of employees who need the education is exhausted.

Executives have wisdom and a desire to make a difference. Employ them, do not abuse them. Develop a professional relationship with them and make them feel their input and participation is very valuable. Nurturing corporate relationships is a very personal networking affair and takes time, but it is well worth the investment. Start with low-level commitments, such as membership on the program advisory board. Make sure to treat their time as a valuable commodity. Keep advisory board meetings short. Send them an agenda and a report on your activities ahead of the meeting with enough time for them to have read the documents. Use the advisory board meetings to engage them in giving you feedback or solving problems. The meeting is not a place for them to passively hear you telling them all the wonderful things you just accomplished. They will stop coming to the meetings if they are not meaningfully engaged. Then move on to engage them on a project or two. Invite them to chair a subcommittee that reviews accreditation issues, with deliverables, or to sit on the capstone review board, or to help you organize a student competition. They can also be great guest speakers for your classes. For more mature relationships you can approach them on scholarships, sponsorships, and even to support whole cohorts of students at their company to attend your program. But wait until the relationship matures before loading them down with too many requests.

Networking with corporate contacts, especially executives can make your program very successful. Nurturing these contacts and engaging their passion and satisfying their need to help you with your program will yield many dividends. Be patient, relationship building takes years. Follow a few simple rules and be genuine with them and you will reap many rewards.

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