Colleges and universities across the country are developing partnerships with companies seeking to provide continuing education to employees. The benefits of such arrangements run in both directions, often giving schools captive audiences for their programs. Below are tips from three higher education administrators about how they have found success.
Indiana University's Kelley School of Business - Bloomington, IN
Rich Magjuka is the executive director of Kelley Executive Partners at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. The school offers online business courses through a range of corporate partnerships with companies including General Motors, General Electric, and China International Marine Containers Group. Magjuka said virtually all of the partnerships forged over the last 10 to 15 years remain in place today.
In some cases, companies turn to Kelley for customized workforce development content in more of an exclusive partnership. Other companies offer the school as one approved program among several for their employees. Either way, Magjuka said the partnerships are important to the school.
On finding partners, Magjuka said he looks for companies that already have "multiple layers of relationships with the school. Maybe they have recruited our undergraduates or some of our graduates from various programs or we've placed a number of alums within that company who are active."
When it comes to creating coursework, Kelley often gets a boost from its partners. General Motors asked for a course in enterprise risk management years before it became a high-demand area. After being developed for GM, the course became core content across several programs for all students.
"Sometimes we’re already thinking of offering a course in an area, such as sustainable operations, and then a company provides us with an opportunity to launch it because they can guarantee us enrollment," Magjuka said. "It really helps in that way. We created that course specifically for Cummins Engine but then over time many other manufacturers have been interested and students in general have been interested."
Champlain College - Burlington, VT
At the other end of the spectrum, Champlain College is not even two years into an initiative that has forged more than 60 partnerships to grow its well-established online presence with adult learners. Melissa Hersh, assistant vice president for business engagement in the Division of Continuing Professional Studies, said its truEd Alliances program reflects the changing demographics of higher education. The college has capitalized on the opportunity presented by returning students, partnering with Cisco, 7th Generation, AT&T, and the U.S. government, among others, to engage their employees.
Hersh says the partnerships put Champlain leaders in close contact with subject matter experts who can offer curriculum support, help build entire courses, and even work at the college as adjunct faculty. They also shift some of the recruitment burden onto employers, who push information about Champlain to their workforce.
When it comes to identifying partners, Hersh said her office works with companies who have a certain level of alignment already.
"We don't want to have conversations with employers about why it's important to educate their workforce," Hersh said. "We want them to already be there. That's why we work to carefully vet what businesses or corporations we’re willing to engage with."
What's more, Champlain is looking for partners willing to motivate employees toward program completion.
"It’s very hard, as an adult, to go back to school and to get that accomplished when you’re dealing with all the things that adults deal with — mortgage, family, after school programs," Hersh said. "How do they do that? It’s a lot easier when the employer is supporting them as much as we are on the academic advising side."
Peirce College - Philadelphia, PA
For mission-driven nonprofit Peirce College, corporate partnerships have been a critical way to meet workforce needs in the Philadelphia region. Peirce offers a 25% tuition discount to employees of partner companies, a benefit Uva Coles, vice president of institutional advancement and strategic partnerships, said works because of Peirce's no-frills model that prioritizes academic excellence and workforce preparation above all else.
Peirce's average student is 34 years old, meaning the college's core demographic already has a lot in common with the employees of Peirce's partner companies. Operating within this consistent space and being strategic in response to employer desires are two reasons Coles thinks Peirce’s partnerships have thrived.
Innovation and flexibility, too, are key to ongoing success. Peirce students are able to change the delivery model of their coursework from week to week, depending on whether they are available to attend classes online or on campus. But perhaps the most important piece of advice Coles has for other campuses is around leadership support.
"It has to be a business imperative," Coles said. "I know that in some colleges, there are staff people who may spend time doing this work but unless it becomes a strategic initiative that is really kind of blessed by your leadership and also your board, it can lose momentum and also lose the quality of the work."
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