Higher Education and Corporate Partnerships: Friends or Foes?

Higher Education and Corporate Partnerships: Friends or Foes?

Are corporations higher ed’s friend or foe? 

Yes…and yes. The answer isn’t black and white. Let’s discuss the possibilities of higher education and corporate partnerships.

Look at a tech giant like Apple, which has its own university led by the former provost of Brown University, and you could easily conclude that corporations are a threat to higher education. On the other hand, Georgia Tech’s successful partnership with Udacity and AT&T to develop an online master’s program accessible to AT&T employees suggests that higher education can provide training that competes with corporations’ internal resources. 

With the right mindset and approach, there is ample opportunity for higher education institutions and corporations to form mutually beneficial partnerships. But working with  businesses and their employees differs widely from schools’ typical student outreach, and schools must be willing to adapt their programs and higher education marketing to reap the benefits of these partnerships.

The Corporate World Offers Opportunity 

For years, corporations have relied on a combination of internal and external resources to deliver training, developing whatever content they can themselves and looking elsewhere for standardized, vetted content they can trust to help fill the gaps. From a Chief Learning Officer’s perspective, having a higher education provider to turn to as a source for accurate, well-designed, and well-delivered content is highly valuable. 

While major corporations like Apple have evolved to become entirely self-reliant regarding training, that’s not necessarily the trajectory for every company. There are thousands of small and medium-sized businesses out there that could benefit from partnerships with higher education institutions

And even companies seeking to provide internal university environments can still populate those environments with content and programs from higher education that are the right fit. What are these companies looking for? Content that is relevant, capable of meeting learning and performance objectives, easily accessible, and affordable. The deeper the partnership develops, the more opportunities there are to iterate and improve the content over time.

Higher Education’s Path to Successful Corporate Partnerships

Although there is a space for higher education in the world of corporate training, schools can’t simply rest on the laurels of their brand reputation and expect to develop successful partnerships. The path to success begins with understanding corporations’ objectives and determining how to provide the most value. 

Meet corporate needs 

Higher education and corporations have innately different measures of success. A company investing in corporate training is more focused on performance-based outcomes than the knowledge-based outcomes that tend to be the focus of higher education. 

Communication is essential in bridging this gap. Schools must shift their mindset to understand a company’s goals and set realistic expectations about the outcomes corporations can achieve with corporate training programs. 

Understand the complexity of stakeholder interests in corporate engagements 

Unlike typical higher education marketing that targets individual prospective students, marketing for corporations must appeal to the CLO or manager responsible for corporate training while also speaking to the needs of the individual trainees. The most effective higher education and corporate partnerships effectively collaborate to develop messaging that accounts for this complexity. 

Focus on off-the-shelf content offerings

Higher education institutions will do well to prioritize standardization over customization, aiming to provide corporations with 60-70% off-the-shelf content. Attempts to customize too much of the content can be unmanageable from a logistical standpoint and less financially viable. 

By focusing on standardized offerings, schools can focus on what they do best, profitably, while freeing up corporations to develop highly customized content internally.

Learn to be agile 

Speed and agility are historically points of weakness in higher education, but corporations tend to move fast. In the context of corporate training, that might look like quickly modifying a program to meet the changing needs of their workforce and the job market. Schools that keep pace with corporate partners are more likely to establish themselves as irreplaceable. 

Embrace partnership 

Higher education can provide immense value to corporations but can’t possibly do it all, so to speak. Schools and the corporations they serve must be open to establishing ecosystems that can meet the needs of the problems they’re trying to solve. 

For example, coaching can be an excellent supplement to corporate training. A good coach helps employees get the most from a training or learning experience. While corporations have embraced coaching for some time now, higher education has lagged behind. Schools have an opportunity to begin building coaching into the curricula for their corporate training programs—even if that coaching is best delivered through the company instead of the school—to maximize their offerings.

It’s Time to Join Forces 

When two worlds collide, the outcome can be disastrous or transformative. I encourage higher education leaders to recognize that while corporations do provide some competition, they aren’t truly the enemy. Instead, colleges and universities should take advantage of the opportunities available and consider how to come together with companies as partners in pursuit of a common vision. 

If your school needs support developing corporate partnerships, let’s connect. Reach out to MindMax to learn more about our higher education marketing services.