Published on 2012/07/10

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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Readers Comments

Cindy Chao 2012/07/11 at 1:26 pm

It’s interesting to see how a corporate relationship can impact more than just the bottom line of an institution. I had considered the possibility that a hiring corporation would be more welcoming to degree students who graduate from an institution that does that corporation’s training, but I never thought about the fact that it could be a pathway to more adjunct faculty!

Thanks for this!

André Levesque 2012/07/13 at 10:50 pm

My concern here is an age-old one. I understand and respect the value of building relationships with corporate partners in the interest of developing better links with employers and in bringing subject matter experts into an institution… HOWEVER:

I think this is moving too far along the path to higher education institutions becoming workforce factories rather than, well, institutions of higher learning. We must have more of a mandate to exist than “prepare students for the workforce”. This is not to say that there isn’t value in developing relationships with corporations in a training sense, but I think we must err on the side of caution when it comes to integrating the rest of the institution with a corporation.

After all, while they may be subject matter experts, I worry about the possibility that Halliburton or Enron executives would be teaching those yearning to enter the business world.

Andres Fortino 2012/07/17 at 11:22 am

André:

Completely agree. We have a responsibility to our charges to do right by them and assist them to build a well a rounded background. But by the same token we must help them prepare for productive work. And in this latter, the corporate element can be a powerful partner (not a dictator). I have had very productive relationships with executives who were more than pleased do offer suggestions and engage in giving feedback on improving program so all elements of an educational experience were satisfied.

It is the responsibility of the faculty to resist intrusive meddling by corporations into our field but I seldom found that they did. And when they did, I was successful in fending it off.

Good catch and addition to the discussion.

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