Published on 2012/09/25

Measure It, Improve It, Grow It: Higher Education and Corporate Partnerships

Any partnership between a higher education institution and a corporation will see both sides continuously measure their progress and assess their performance as an indication of the program’s success.

How do/should higher education institutions measure success in corporate partnerships?

Kogan and Hanney (2000) are quoted in Csizmadia, Enders and Westerheijden (2007) as saying that “quality in higher education, how to enhance it and how to evaluate it, has… been placed high on the contemporary agenda in higher education” (p. 440). Still, sometimes in higher education institutions, success is only on paper. For instance, learners may be counted because they attended an institution, but what they do with what they were counted for (quality education to fit a particular vocational context) many time does not get counted, thereby skewing the true results of success.

For any kind of success in partnerships between higher education institutions and corporations to be effectively measured, success needs to be clearly and succinctly defined upfront so that what needs to be measured is measured. In essence, what needs to be measured is fit with learning and other defined derivatives of the partnership which include, but not are limited to, developing learners, attentiveness to learners, actual learning, standard of excellence, organizational and national impact, research and development and faculty satisfaction and development.

Developing learners

So many things are rising, falling and standing still in the global operational environment learning and development has to be seen as learning and development for life. As a result, those involved in workplace learning and development must recognize this fact and begin to change their practices, processes, systems and mindsets to reflect this reality.

A new kind of worker is needed so it should be an imperative to put the necessary structures in place to build a viable pool of workers who can begin to augment their current knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes to launch them onto new career paths. This is especially important in situations where the employee’s old career has lost its relevance or put them on a path to self-improvement for the global reality.

Therefore, new learning and development initiatives must be so structured that they provide pathways for further exploration of new careers and different ways of thinking about events, actions and outcomes. Learning must also be inclusive and learner-centered to motivate and facilitate creativity, innovation and produce innovative thinkers who will launch major products and services by transferring their knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes to those possibilities.

When higher education institutions partner with corporations and become responsible for providing workplace learning and development, they must recognized it is their ability to develop learning for which their success will be judged by learners, partners, vendors and other stakeholders.

Attentiveness to learners

Change is a constant in every aspect of people’s life as well as for organizations. However, this does not come without some pushing, pulling and of cause resisting. Despite this, change sometimes comes with enormous sacrifice, resistances and can result in learning and sometimes personal change. Since change is a constant, it can produce results that are not easy to predict. In spite of everything, change can also produce enhancement in behavioral outcomes among learners and even among staff and must be supported, augmented and recorded to determine program impact.

Learners’ satisfaction hinges on the quality and level of service received. This will determine how equipped they are after a training and development intervention. Hence, it is important for higher education institutions to properly manage their attrition rates among students and faculty. They must also be intentional in consulting with industry leaders to determine the knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes required for building a pool of workers to address the changing global and economic realities.

Seeing and treating learners as viable revenues sources can lead some institutions to focus more on the income generated; especially if learners are getting some kind of support to finance their learning and development activities. However, this should be avoided at all costs as success may not come from focusing singly on revenue while ignoring learners’ desires. Learners have needs which they expect higher education to satisfy while they are enrolled. Higher education administrators and educators dealing with learners must do so with the highest level of the respect and due care.

This can enhance the likelihood of fostering a healthy partnership between the corporate community and institution that can be long-lasting. This can also lead to recognition among peers for excellence in student care and related services because learners feel good about themselves.

Learning

One of the fundamentals of learning and development today is to reduce deficiencies in knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes gaps to allow learners to excel in a global economy.

This kind of learning and development cannot happen without first fully understanding the competencies and instructional strategies required for futuristic positioning, learning retention and skill transfer. Higher education institutions can be more intentional in partnering with industry leaders to discern the organization’s needs and the slack capacity needed for short or long-term expansion. This kind of background knowledge can lead to improvement in the way corporate entities and higher education engage each other as well as leads to congruency between varied teaching and learning strategies and workplace needs.

The suitability of higher education institutions to successfully partner centers on their ability to produce innovative and creative learning solutions targeted toward meeting the specific needs organizations have. Measuring these activities can also provide good benchmarks for future improvement in learning and development activities and higher education leaders should be careful not to overlook the opportunities to measure, improve and grow their programming, reach and stakeholder pool.

Standards of excellence

Standards of excellence and standards for excellence are inseparable twins in learning and development activities. These should be key outcomes in partnerships between higher education and corporations, and they should be aligned with the processes, practices, systems and key people who are engaged in measuring, improving and growing the partnership and entities’ overall responsiveness learners’ needs. To get to this point, there must be consistency in the process, practice and procedures and a clear sense of what workers and organizations need in order to meet industry quality standards set for entities.

The overall health of the partnership can be measured—not only by the learning outcome—but by the new products, services, infrastructure development which emanates from the learning and development activities and by the richness of the collaboration. These outcomes will provide useful information about:

  • What worked and how well did it work?
  • Why did the successful elements of the partnership work well?
  • What did not work so well and why?
  • What were the factors that influenced the success or failure of the partnership or its activities?

The overall organizational and industry impact of the partnership can be the impetus for using the lessons learned and using those to improve the quality of the partnership and what the partnership does for the organization and in the communities and nations where they operate.

Organizational and national impact

Organizational and the national impact from corporate and higher education partnerships can be seen in many facets of society when done correctly. In the past, higher education activities were pivotal in creating new pathways for developing nations, creating properly trained workers to meet specific developmental needs of nations and to meet the specific needs of industries.

In doing so, many incubators and seeding projects in communities evolved to expand human resources’ and organizational capacity. As a result, congruent jobs were created as well as new industries and markets. This can be repeated again from carefully crafted partnership arrangements. Relationships between industry and higher education are a very important aspect of national and organizational growth and should be advanced for greater impact. Still, positive perceptions of the partnership by stakeholders can lead to returned business and referrals and the emergence of organization-community partnerships. Accordingly, higher education-corporate partnerships must be intentional in measuring the national, organizational and individual impact for continued practicality, improvement and expansion.

Research and development

Research and development is not only useful for manufacturing firms, but also for service industries. The information garnered from research and development not only tells important stories about the effectiveness of the partnership, but also the efficacy of the intervention in addressing some of the challenges facing society and organizations.

Today’s learners who will become tomorrow’s knowledge workers can no longer be trained to be practitioners only. They must be trained to become scholar-practitioners. The work that awaits many of tomorrow’s workers require problem-solving acumen that may be taught in a scholar-practitioner model or learning which will require more than an informational processing model of teaching and learning. Relationships between higher education institutions and corporations can be the vehicle needed to promote this very much needed way of teaching and learning.

Research and development are pivotal activities that can launch organizational activities into profitable avenues of business and learners’ involvement in organization as part of their learning can help in this regard. The partnership cultivated between higher education institutions and the corporate community can create avenues to deepen the understanding of the need to reconstructive learning and development curriculum by using organizations as laboratories.

These kinds of partnerships can be important on many fronts but to know the true success of these relationships can be most suitably attained by identifying outcomes, measuring impact and seeking avenues for improvement and expansion. By conducting an invasive evaluation of the success or failure of these kinds of partnership can provide important information to discern the right kinds of interventions needed to expand, strengthen program or structure partnerships.

Faculty satisfaction and development

Any good partnership involves people – good people who can keep the partnership fresh and relevant. Still, this can only happen by ensuring that investment in people is treated delicately and with high priority. Doing differently can lead to faculty and learners dissatisfaction which can result in attrition among these and other groups who will disassociate themselves from the organization. Stakeholders will respond because of different kind of engagement with the systems, but the impact of one interaction affects people indirectly and is not done in isolation but is linked because of proximity. Therefore, it is imperative as part of higher education-corporate partnerships to create situations to enhance faculty and staff behavioral outcomes because how faculty and staff respond to the treatment received has proximate effects on learners and other constitutes members.  Therefore, attentiveness to the needs of adjuncts and their family can enjoin them in real meaningful ways which can improve learners’ outcome, however, the level and kinds of follow through and follow up procedures can determined the true outcome.

Summary

Higher education-corporate partnerships are important for a healthy future of higher education. This is especially true where many things seem nebulous which add a level of complexity that, if not handled with care, can result in many missteps given the associated risk involved. If higher continues to do things singly, they are forced to bear the entire risk associated with some important decisions in an ill-defined operating environment and in some situations solutions might be heavily invested, independently. Thus, if interventions don’t provide the anticipated outcomes or impact, it means that higher education institutions must carry the entire burden of a failed investment.

Corporate-higher education partnerships can provide important avenues for cost sharing, collaborative teaching and learning interventions and discovery of news tools, assessments, research and development and for the formulation new markets, products, services and redefinition of the things that have stalled both higher education and the corporate community for some time. These provide some important learning opportunities for both set of entities, but also for learners who will benefit from such engagements and who can also assist meaningful ways in the evolutionary process which primes them for becoming scholar-practitioners. Partnering affords higher education institution an opportunity to take a serious look at themselves and for corporate entities to do the same. This can deepen each side’s understanding of themselves the way other see them. Gaps between the two views can become the impetus for deeper self-examination, reworking some things and change. The benefits of partnering seem to far outweigh the associated costs given the new products and services that can evolve and the students’ learning that can take place.

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