When it comes to higher education and corporate partnerships, it’s not a “nice to have;” it is mission-critical for colleges and universities to survive. The job market is evolving so quickly that institutions need a steady stream of information from employers on what they want and need from their workforce so curriculum and learning can reflect those needs.

The key here is “partnership.” Think quality over quantity. Both sides—institutions and employers—are looking for return on investment (ROI), and these five approaches will help universities build impactful relationships with mutual benefits.

5 steps for stronger corporate partnerships

1. Identify your internal champions
First and foremost, understand internal champions of the institution. Many faculty members and trustees hold professional external positions and are willing to share the university’s mission and strengths with the outside world. Alumni have a broad reach when it comes to garnering support. LinkedIn is a great tool to easily identify where alumni are employed. The next step is to determine if those companies are recruiting your graduates for meaningful internships or full-time positions. If so, tap the alumni to develop or strengthen a relationship.

2. Understand what a corporate partner wants
What’s in it for them? Corporate partners should gain something from having a relationship with your university. Identify what they are looking for and create opportunities that are mutually beneficial: access to student talent and faculty research; a business case analysis as part of curriculum or a presentation in the classroom; participation in career fairs; or opportunities for broadbrand awareness on campus.

Liberty Mutual is showing its commitment to advancing women by partnering with the Bentley University Center for Women and Business (CWB) to implement curriculum that helps address the gap in women leaders. Another successful example of a corporate partner making an impact is PwC, a founding partner of the CWB and a company at the forefront of diversity and inclusion. PwC’s chairman and senior partner, Tim Ryan, recently visited campus and spent the day with student leaders from the CWB and the Multi-Cultural Center. Ernst & Young has also been a strong partner, supporting curriculum development to ensure students remain competitive and relevant in the marketplace.

3. Provide avenues for sharing
Promoting the strengths of your college or university can happen digitally or in person. It is critical for an institution to assign a key account manager(s) who can be that bridge to the employers and provide customer service. I invite employer representatives for a campus tour and have faculty members join me at various points to highlight the education we provide our students, the research we conduct, and the engagement opportunities available between partner, student, and the university. For example, Bentley’s Service Learning and Civic Engagement Center may be unexpected at a business university but it’s very much a part of our student experience, providing a talent pool prepared for the nonprofit world and service.

4. Attend large-scale conferences geared toward corporate relationships
Professional organizations, such as NACRO (National Association of Corporate Relation Officers) and CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education), provide a platform to educate professionals in the field of corporate and foundation relations. They encourage the sharing of best practices and provide a forum to identify strengths and challenges. It’s important that institutions are willing to identify approaches that have been successful, as well as those that failed, for there is much to be learned from that experience.

5. Create an ecosystem
For colleges to be relevant in five years, we have to understand how to educate students today. Building corporate partners requires a holistic approach that leverages knowledge from various constituents, which comes from having an open dialogue with employers. They can assist in identifying the curriculum needs to prepare our students for the job market of the future and the skills needed for current internships or full-time positions. In turn, our students can share their experience as an intern and the skills they felt were necessary to be successful with their employer. This two-way conversation and open dialog allows for mutual success.

The goal for effective corporate partnerships is the building of a long-term strategic and impactful relationship, creating a true value exchange unique to that partner with mutual benefits resulting in a positive ROI for all sides.

About the Author:

Mary Davis is director of corporate relations at Bentley University in Massachusetts, where she works to attract corporate interest and philanthropy in the work that is taking place at Bentley. She has strong business development experience building strategic partnerships and aligning missions focused on growing business.


Add your opinion to the discussion.