Partnering with Employers to Spur Enrollments and GrowBill Pink | President, Grand Rapids Community College
As state budgets are dwindling and the job market is picking up, community colleges are being pushed to be more innovative in their work to attract and retain students. At Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC), an employee education partnership with McDonald’s aimed at creating access to degree programming is just one such example. In this interview, Bill Pink reflects back on the process of establishing their partnership with McDonald’s and shares his thoughts on how this partnership could help them to develop a partnership model to take forward.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why did GRCC decide to enter into a credit partnership with McDonald’s restaurants?
Bill Pink (BP): We were approached with the idea for a credit partnership several months ago by McDonald’s, who gave us some ideas based on what some other schools had done with this type of partnership. We started looking into it and realized that there are opportunities here to make good in-roads with some of the McDonald’s management employees and to start creating a GRCC model for working in education partnerships with companies like this.
We started off by identifying two courses—worth six credits—aligned to the prior learning that McDonald’s managers have had in their training. From there, we’ve had our business department look even further into the training programming offered by McDonald’s to determine what they equate to from our campus offerings. That is where we’d like to see this go. We need to start focusing on the next steps to making this a reality because we are very much still in the early stages.
Over the long term, we’re hoping to create a full model that would work with many local companies. That model would include us looking at and determining what classes we have that offer opportunities for credit through prior learning. As we try to help these individuals complete a degree, we want to be able to set up a cohort model where some of the classes these students take would be delivered in the hybrid modality and others delivered face-to-face that could eventually be moved off-campus if our campus location is challenging for some of the students to access. If we can pull these folks from specific companies into cohorts of 15 to 20 people, we will be able to help them go all the way through to an associate’s degree.
What we find is that, in some cases, the people in management and middle management positions at companies that have been around for a long time have a lot of experience with the organization but not as much experience in formal education. We haven’t looked at demographics of the McDonald’s employees, but that’s typically what we find. What we want to do is make sure that we’re giving those companies and their employees opportunities for enhanced knowledge and enhanced experiences.
Evo: What were some of the most significant challenges you had to overcome in getting the initial partnership off the ground?
BP: First of all, working with the people at McDonald’s was great. One of the easiest parts of establishing the partnership was understanding what they wanted the training to accomplish.
The harder part came with making sure that our people and our academic experts were able to look at all the offerings delivered by McDonald’s—like their management offerings, their Archways Program training and their Hamburger University offerings—and determine the alignment between their programming and ours. We looked at their curricula and our business department worked hard to determine the areas of alignment. The timing of this was challenging as it was the beginning of the school year when we began this review. However, we wanted to make sure that we were able to do a thorough review of curriculum to identify those alignments.
Evo: How will you and your team at GRCC balance the prior learning of McDonald’s managers with the academic demands of credit-bearing programs offered by the college?
BP: The key to this is conversation with the company. We need to make sure that GRCC understands the demographics of the employees the company is sending our way. As we get deeper into this partnership, we’ll find out that some of their employees participating in this program have different academic backgrounds—some will have a little college experience, some will have a degree and some will have no postsecondary experience. We have to work with the company to understand what they want their employees to accomplish and what role we can play in that process. If the company wants to direct the whole program toward an associate’s degree with the focus in management, then that’s what the program will be. We’ll find out some of the folks in the cohort have already taken some of the classes while other students in the cohort will earn some of the credits through their prior learning.
This is where the earlier work on determining alignment could become critical. We will be able to make sure that all those pieces—whether it be their prior learning from postsecondary experience or through their McDonald’s management training—in fact do align on an individual basis. Then we will be able to properly advise each employee on their path forward.
This is what we want to see for the future. I foresee this as being something that McDonald’s is able to collaborate on with us, allowing us to understand the outcomes they want and then determining whether that learning is better suited to the two-year or four-year environment.
Evo: How does the partnership with McDonald’s reflect the role you believe GRCC should play in your local community?
BP: I think this partnership is strong in reflecting our role in this community. This is one of many partnerships we have with companies and each partnership looks very different.
We have one partnership model designed for manufacturing companies that allows their employees who need to have training and want to have an associate’s degree work towards their degree in machining and tooling. That partnership is so closely aligned with the company that they allow employees to take a day or two off to attend classes. The employee comes to us for two days of class and then they go back to work for three days and the company ultimately pays for the degree.
This initiative with McDonald’s is another arm of our partnership approach that we have with local businesses and industry partners across West Michigan. We want to build and craft a model that works with this industry so we can develop another delivery methodology that allows us to work directly with more companies in this space. We can build it to the point of having a solid framework in place to not only give six hours of credit, but to try to help students earn more credit and get degrees.
Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the partnership the GRCC has with McDonald’s and how you hope to see it evolve over time?
BP: We’re honored to have this kind of partnership with McDonald’s—the folks that we’re working with have been very good to collaborate with. We’ve had conversations with some of the local franchise owners and they are very positive about this partnership.
For us, it helps us set up a foundation to build this partnership into something that I’m hopeful will evolve into a delivery model and a framework that we can not only deliver here to McDonald’s in Grand Rapids but also companies across West Michigan. If we can build this in the right way, I’d love to use the methodology to spread to some of the other McDonald’s and some of the other corporate franchises across the state. That is down the line, but we’ve got to build a good foundation and we’ve got to start putting some wheels on this thing and making it run. It’s exciting but it’s time to work on it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.