Published on 2012/09/26

The Benefits of Running Employee Development Programming Through a University

Universities are best suited to deliver continuing education opportunities to mid- and upper-level management professionals, and can do so through a number of channels.

Universities in the United States are unique resources for organizations seeking assistance in developing their human capital. Most universities have at their disposal individuals who have not only a theoretical understanding of subjects important to industry but also possess industry experience in these areas as well as the proven ability to transfer this knowledge to others. The majority of universities also want to produce individuals who are not only well educated within their fields but are good civic and corporate citizens as well. As a result, a university’s primary focus is the creation of bachelor, master’s, and doctoral degree programs that achieve this result. That being said, many universities have created special units for professional development through either non-degree offerings or degree applicable certificates that are customized for government or corporate clients. The university source for these programs usually varies depending on what specific request that the potential client expresses.

Executive level programs usually reside within the business college or school. They require extensive expertise to bring credibility to the high-level participants and must be priced accordingly. Executive level programs tend not to be as price sensitive as mid-level and aspiring programs (though this has changed a bit since 2001). Part of the reason for this is the relatively small number of executives within an organization versus the rest of an organizations’ population.

Mid-level managers and aspiring employee programs are often found within continuing education programs. These programs may be found in stand-alone professional studies/continuing education colleges or within a specific educational unit (i.e., College of Engineering/Computer Science/Health Sciences, etc.). They may also manage all non-credit programs, where they are allowed much more flexibility to do customization and create short programs on emerging topics as opposed to the sometimes lengthy course and degree approval processes that are required at many universities. Pricing of these programs is also a real consideration for universities. Successful units are also aware of training programs that are offered by private vendors – some with rather impressive trainers on their staff (though they are not often the ones actually conducting the training).

Though some universities such as land grant systems have the ability to deliver a full breadth of programming, most universities are not well positioned to provide basic training, re-training, and government-sponsored workforce development programs. These efforts are usually focused on state and/or industries’ immediate needs for emerging and short-handed skills as well as individuals’ needs for retraining that result in either new or ongoing employment. These programs are usually best administered by organizations such as community colleges that have an expertise in their administration and a familiarity with the myriad regulations (both current and pending) concerning “gainful employment” programs and their documentation requirements.

One of the more interesting evolutions in the university/business relationship has been the development of graduate certificates geared toward some form of expertise important to specific needs within industries or occupations (i.e., project management, forensic accounting, health management, leadership, etc.). As universities get more responsive to industries’ immediate and ongoing needs, new professional degree and certificate programs are created to meet these needs. Very often these graduate certificates are also directly applicable to a professional master’s degree and can reflect about 40% of the total degree requirements.

Organizations work with the university to select the appropriate graduate certificate for their specific need, customize the content, and mutually decide on delivery time and/or method (onsite, online, condensed executive format, etc.). The organization pays 100% of the certificate tuition (usually a negotiated amount depending on the number of students, customization, delivery location, etc.), and if they want, the employee can complete the entire master’s degree on their own through their organization’s tuition reimbursement program. This allows companies to have their immediate needs addressed within a shorter period of time, with content specifically focused on their internal issues, and reward their employees with a fully paid graduate certificate from a highly reputable institution. The employees are awarded something that is transferable and not just representative of a specific organization or product, and have the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in an accelerated way with full organizational support. This is a true win-win situation for all parties.

Due to the out-of-norm complexities of private customized engagements, both executive and mid-level programs are best served if they have dedicated staff to assist in their administration (i.e., needs assessment, contract preparation and revisions, faculty organization, implementation, ongoing evaluation and review, general administration, etc.).

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Readers Comments

Chelsea Bellows 2012/09/26 at 8:43 pm

With the income from workforce development grants, though, couldn’t universities -develop- the means to deliver ground-level workforce training programming?

    Kevin 2012/10/12 at 3:22 pm

    Chelsea –

    Workforce development grant requirements are usually best services through community colleges or schools with that as their central mission and an infrastructure to support the reporting requirements. Due to their mission, most research universities are not set up to efficiently administer these programs.


Elle Peterson 2012/09/28 at 11:02 am

I think universities are, as you say, best-suited to deliver executive and management level training given that universities are more academic and knowledge-based.

I also think they should begin to offer more training programs for the IT sector, given the technoogy resources many universities boast. If they could provide ongoing training and development opportunities for upgrading IT skills, I think they could tap into a lucrative market that is always evolving.

What do you think, Kevin?

    Kevin 2012/10/12 at 3:31 pm

    Elle –

    It would seem natural for research universities to play a greater role in IT training, but most computer science departments seem focused on the next generation (or iteration) of software rather than the current implementation of commercially available products.

    That could quickly change if there was a major platform or technology shift. This happened in the 80’s-90’s with programming languages (OOD/C/C++ etc.) and networks (digital replacing analog). Many colleges and universities (small and large) got “burned” when their investment in training labs and programs “went south” after 2000.


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