2. Consider an “intermediary.”

According to the UCLA Community College Review, many colleges serious about business partnerships have instituted an organizational type—the “intermediary”—which provides a neutral platform that allows college and industry leaders to discuss their mutual interest and engage other regional partners with whom they have common cause. These can include: community-based organizations, labor unions and apprenticeship committees, other colleges, workforce-development agencies, human-service agencies, and economic-development agencies.

“A process must be implemented for communication between the business community and higher education,” said a group of North Dakota college and university presidents during a Greater North Dakota Chamber discussion on working with industry. “Businesses must continually communicate their needs so higher education can respond to them.”

In the same vein, higher education institutions must be flexible and be able to adapt quickly as workforce needs change, said the group.

The Review also recommends that, during these discussions, colleges and businesses try to:

  • Recognize a local/regional economic development challenge that calls for collaborative attention.
  • Establish a shared mission and goals.
  • Ensure that value is achieved for all partners (including students).
  • Have strong executive leadership from both the college and industry participants.
  • Develop governance and accountability mechanisms.

3. Align your mission and curriculum to the workforce.

Applying mostly to community colleges, this option stresses specific vocational pathways, aided by new models of learning (contextualized, modularized, and competency-based curriculum; accelerated degree completion; workplace-based learning; and learn-and-earn models) and is developed in conjunction with local businesses or national businesses in order to help validate credentials.

“Community colleges have historically operated academic, occupational, and developmental education programs as separate entities within their governance and business models that have separate operations, staff, and funding mechanisms,” explains CAP. “Federal- and state-level funding and regulation often reinforces this siloed structure, which makes innovation across missions difficult.”

CAP recommends specific vocational pathways that focus on integrated skill sets and innovative instructional models, as well as frameworks to address community college students’ needs by challenging the existing instruction silos.

“New vocationalism means enriching classroom learning with real world content and values offering applied and work-based learning experiences, while focusing on generating benefits for students, community colleges, and businesses…Collaboration between community colleges and business [can] yield better results in terms of relevant knowledge and skills, and degree attainment.”

According to Prema Arasu, CEO and vice provost of K-State Olathe, giving business a voice in the content and delivery of curriculum is a good idea.

“Soliciting business leaders’ input into educational and professional development programs will further enable colleges and universities to respond to changing times and demands,” she explains in The Kansas City Star. “K-State Olathe, for example, is exploring a customizable executive master’s degree in applied science that would allow working professionals to tailor their programs to industry needs, engage with cross-generational teams and fill gaps in their technical and professional knowledge.”

4. Provide professional development for faculty.

Partnerships can provide resources for college faculty and staff to develop skills needed to design new curricula, teach integrated remedial occupational and academic course work, and better track student progress and employer needs, notes CAP.

5. Collaborate on product and technology development.

According to Arasu, institutions that have research facilities can partner with area businesses, schools and other colleges to connect the right talent and expertise.

“Early and continuous collaboration between researchers and technologists in both public and private sectors ensures alignment with what industry and consumers demand,” she explains. “Academic institutions have largely relied on federal support of research, which is declining, while corporate research and development budgets have also been drastically reduced. Defining approaches for collaboration, shared intellectual property and continued high-caliber work allows for cost-sharing and common objectives.”

6. Ensure sustainability

Creating pathways and pipelines to specific jobs and careers is good for the short-term, but to ensure long-term success, colleges and universities should consider creating support structures, both socially and financially.

For example, CAP recommends forming small learning communities or funding a career center on campus that provide financial aid, and academic and career advising.

Partnerships can also create a foundation for new and existing partnerships by cultivating board level leadership for partnerships and co-investing in facilities and equipment.