Published on 2012/09/10
Reusing customized programs for other similar businesses and for open-enrollment courses can be a recipe to riches for higher education institutions.

As state funding continues to decline, and property tax based revenues remain stagnant due to the economy, community and technical colleges are looking to their customized and contract training departments more than ever to generate additional revenue. These contract training departments are frequently the most flexible divisions within the college and are on the front line with local business and industry, responding to training needs by developing unique customized training solutions for incumbent employees.

Just as the open enrollment areas of the college (credit and continuing education) continue to look for ways to identify efficiencies, maximize existing resources, and in general “do more with less,” contract training departments also look to maximize the revenue they generate. A program customized for a specific employer can often be the basis for a similar program designed for another local business. While contracted training may have customized content (i.e. employer policy and procedure, tailored to a specific job description, designed for a specific work culture) the core knowledge and skills delivered in the training can be repackaged for the next contract training client with only the customized content being updated to meet the new employer’s needs. This is most easily accomplished with training content that is common across an industry sector (or transferable), rather than content that is so specific and proprietary that it applies to only one employer. Transferable contract training content can include topics such as computer applications, leadership, management and supervision, federal and state regulatory requirements, industry standards, and other topics common to the workplace within an industry sector.

Contract training programs provide training either by utilizing faculty expertise within their college or finding talent and/or curriculum outside of the college. When purchasing training materials and curricula from training vendors, contract training departments should look for products that not only fit the specific training content needed at the time, but that will also retain their value as transferable to other contract training clients and under content licensing that allows for multiple use. Whether purchasing a curriculum from a third party or developing the customized training in-house at the college, it is also recommended that the curriculum be structured in modules. A modularized curriculum makes it easier to separate out any employer-specific content from the transferable content that can be reused as many times as needed.

During tight budget times, colleges often cut funding for new program development. However, a customized training contract can actually provide a method for funding the development of a new open enrollment course or program at the college. Just as more than one business might have similar training needs in a community, individuals that work in similar business settings may need access to the same training as well through open enrollment.

This model of program development and dual delivery (through contract training and open enrollment) worked well when new Texas legislation created the need for experienced dental assistants to obtain two advanced certifications in skills previously restricted to dental hygiene practice (pit and fissure sealants, and coronal polishing). Once the legislation passed, it was the larger dental clinics that turned to the local community colleges first for customized delivery of this state regulated training for their own dental assistant employees. Contract training created the initial courses in collaboration with dental faculty, hired the original instructors, and delivered the courses onsite at the employers’ dental clinics.

Once these courses were developed (funded by the customized training contracts), then the healthcare continuing education department was in a position to start offering the same courses—with the same curriculum and instructors—as open enrollment courses at the college, for those individual dental assistants in need of the certifications and willing to pay for the training on their own. The curriculum that was initially developed through customized training contract funds for specific employers is now generating income for the college through both additional training contracts and through ongoing open enrollment tuition and fees.

How do colleges manage and price those tailored programs?

Pricing structures for contract training services come in as many different forms as there are different colleges. However, most all of the pricing structures include the direct costs related to development time, instructional time, instructional materials and supplies, equipment purchase or rental, textbooks and other per student supplies, and travel expenses to and from the business site.

What can vary a great deal from college to college is the amount of indirect costs (i.e. operational overhead costs) and percentage of profit retained by the college. If the curriculum being developed includes content that is transferable to other contracts—or the content is also appropriate for an open enrollment format—the curriculum development costs can either be covered in the single initial training contract budget, or spread out over several similar contracts and/or the open enrollment budget. This avoids placing the entire cost of development on the initial business that requested the training.

With the financial challenges faced by our colleges today, all contract training departments should consider their current repertoire of curriculum, identify the content that is transferable to other contracts, and work with their credit and continuing education open-enrollment departments to identify what existing resources can be used to generate additional revenue for the college, and additional training options for students.

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Readers Comments

WA Anderson 2012/09/10 at 10:23 am

I don’t understand how this isn’t already common practice? Surely developing a custom program for a company in Industry X will allow you to deliver content to any company in Industry X?

Or, at the very least, provide you a model program which you can tweak to the needs of various companies?

Rick Poston 2012/09/10 at 1:57 pm

I think you are both wildly underestimating how different each corporation is, and how different needs are from company to company.

I can definitely see how this would be applicable to community colleges and others serving industries with common practices and regulations across the board. However, the specific needs of one financial services corporation will probably not be met by a program geared towards the needs of another company.

Each program is very different and has different expectations in terms of learning outcomes

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