College-Corporate Collaboration: A Strategic Advantage

“I don’t understand you. You don’t understand me. What else do we have in common?” – Ashleigh Brilliant

While the pace of technological innovation and the nature of work are evolving at an unprecedented rate, colleges, universities and businesses would benefit from collaborating now more than ever before.

Colleges and universities need to demonstrate the ROI (return on investment) of their educational programs would be a lot easier with a direct pathway to employment for their graduates. It would also differentiate their institution versus the myriad educational options available, which would help with enrollment. Businesses need a pipeline of qualified talent for increasingly complex roles in an ever tighter labor market and would have a much easier time securing talent with a strong relationship with their local, academic institutions. Especially when they are working together to define the needs of each other.

Yet, a Harvard Business School research paper from 2022 demonstrates how the two groups just don’t seem to be able to understand each other.

The study found that “America’s community college leaders voiced their disappointment with the level of collaboration with employers.”

While one employer in the study stated “My community college lacks the mandate or culture to develop programs that align with what employers are looking for.”

Taken together the researchers found that “While there is ample conversation between the two entities, it is seldom focused on the substantive challenges that undermine the performance of their collaboration.”

With each side of the value equation both hopeful of collaboration and pessimistic for success, it’s no wonder that we have few success stories to date.

Making the change

Arizona State University, ever the innovator, started CareerCatalyst, citing how “Arizona’s vibrant small businesses employ over 1 million people, representing 43% of the state’s private workforce.” Their program seeks to provide local businesses with in-demand courses with a discount for their workforce.

Northeastern University has partnered with Apprenti (a part of Washington Technology Industry Association) to deliver apprenticeship programs that lead to a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology.

An example from HBS research paper is the partnership between Monroe Community College and local businesses in Rochester, NY. In response to the declining fortunes of once-dominant employers like Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch & Lomb, the college reoriented its programs to meet emerging local economic needs. This forward-thinking approach not only revitalized the community’s workforce but also served as a model for how educational institutions and businesses can adapt to changing industry landscapes together.

Actionable Recommendations for Success

  • Engage in Continuous Dialogue: Regular interaction between educational institutions and industry leaders is crucial for understanding evolving skills needs.
  • Co-create Curricula: Developing programs in partnership with businesses ensures that students learn relevant skills and are exposed to real-world applications.
  • Implement Work-based Learning: Internships and apprenticeships offer students hands-on experience, making them more attractive to future employers.
  • Leverage Data and Trends: Both sectors should utilize labor market data to inform program development and workforce planning.
  • Foster a Culture of Lifelong Learning: Encourage continuous education and upskilling to help workers remain competitive in a rapidly changing job market.

The positive relationship between an institution, the community and the workforce leads to a more vibrant community. Companies with solid pipelines of employees are more likely to stay in a community and succeed. Their workforce will be able to invest in homes and schools, in turn making the employer more attractive since it is in a vibrant community. That’s a virtuous cycle that both business leaders and academics can agree and aspire to.