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The Six Elements of a Successful University-Corporate Partnership

Higher education institutions must work to mold their programming, structure and staff to meet the needs of corporations in order to successfully partner with employers to meet workforce training and development needs.

Universities have been intertwined with corporations since medieval universities had charters from either a King or Pope and had to be conscious of that relationship. In our modern universities the department most dependent on an outside entity is the school of education. Their function is to harmonize their curriculum with the requirements of the state boards that certify educational professionals. That is why the education curriculum in New York in no way resembles that of Texas. These are not philosophical differences. They reflect teaching students to prepare for two different systems of education. Departments of education are built around state requirements.

A successful university-corporate program must do something similar. To build a successful university-corporate partnership there are six elements.

1. Your school should have a solid academic reputation

If that reputation is not what is should be, begin to work to improve it. How do you demonstrate learning outcomes? How do you measure up on national tests? How transparent is your assessment to the students and public? In this new age only quality will survive.

2. You should develop a series of incentives for corporations including tuition discounting

A little sugar is what these corporations have come to expect. If your classes are on-the-ground-classes, offer to bring them to the corporate offices after hours in exchange for the corporation guaranteeing a minimum class size.

3. You MUST have a dedicated staff that can maintain these relationships

If this is left to some dean or part-time retired businessman it may never get done. If you decide to go down the road of corporate training, invest in someone with the talent to make things happen and a “golden rolodex” (an archaic term!).

This person should have a title and support to make decisions without checking back on every detail. This person must be empowered negotiate in the name of the university within the bounds of academic quality.

4. Be flexible with transfer credits

If you are going to offer an MBA or Accounting degree think about giving college credit for prior learning. If someone has been working in accounting or the tax office of a major corporation, that may count towards their degree and this would help. Follow the CAEL guidelines (Council on Adult and Experimental Learning) and don’t waste time reinventing the wheel yourself.

5. If at all possible operate corporate classes in cohorts

When students are in a cohort they are less likely to drop out or fall behind. Many scheduling programs in the modern universities make it difficult to register students in this way. You should find a way around this software limitation and operate in cohorts if at all possible.

6. Learn your partner’s needs and ensure programming is relevant

Get to know your corporate client and if there is a capstone course make it relevant to their cohort or students. This does not mean you make it only about that company but show how the principles apply to that industry.

In looking at surveys of college presidents, it clear they see the need for online learning and all of the value digital education can bring. What is not so clear is that many of them see the benefit of a partnership with a corporation. But the benefit can work both ways.

Full-time professors would be in a lab where the principles they teach are either being successfully carried out or they are not. This would inform their teaching of business, science, technology and other subjects on their return to a more traditional classroom.

Colleges that have been successful in doing this have mapped out this path and invested up front. It is not something you can do after the program is up and running. Corporations need and want this. It is up to you to adapt to this brave new world with a program that will meet their needs and yours.

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