President Obama, Gates Foundation say the more college-to-business bridges, the better.

college-business-jobsIn the wake of President Obama’s SOTU address, national organizations and foundations are starting to bolster support for what they say are critical higher education-business pipelines, with the aim of strengthening the middle class by providing training and required skills for local and national jobs.

It’s a pipeline that’s also heralded in the Gates Foundation newly released annual letter on the state of education, as well as its future:

“Many of today’s online classes are disconnected from career paths, but that will change too. Suppose you want to be a health worker; you’ll be able to find out what level of math, chemistry, and other subjects you need to meet the requirements, and you’ll be able to do much of the work online. Some content will need to be localized for different places and languages. Yet the basic ideas don’t change; algebra works the same way everywhere.”

Having businesses work more closely with institutions like community colleges is a trend that will flourish in the years to come, says the Gates Foundation, as well as other national organizations, such as the Center for American Progress (CAP).

But outside of rhetoric, how can higher education institutions better partner with businesses for economic development?

For any institution considering a partnership with local or national business, consider these options:

1. Have an expectation of outcome.

According to CAP’s synthesis of research on institution-business partnerships, this kind of partnership is:

“…a collaboration between a college and an individual business, group of firms, chamber of commerce, industry association, or sector partnership with the purpose of using the combined resources to create alternative college education programs that are tightly linked to regional economic development and labor force needs for students—both younger workforce entrants and older ones in need of skills and education upgrades.”

Partners can contribute human resources, finances, facilities and equipment, and leadership to help accomplish the agreed upon goals and outcomes, with the expectation that students who complete these partnership programs and obtain postsecondary credentials will have skills that meet the needs of area business, improve regional or national competitiveness, help them earn a family-sustaining wage, and prepare them for further learning.

Postsecondary credentials can include occupational licenses, technical certification, and associates and bachelor’s degrees.

(Next page: Intermediaries and sustainability)