In the monthly CEO Keys blog series, Keypath Education CEO Steve Fireng shares his thoughts and insights into the most prevalent topics in the higher education industry today.
Companies and schools are joining forces to educate employees and recruit students for in-demand programs. If developed properly, these corporate, or business-to-business (B2B), partnerships are powerful and mutually beneficial.
Schools are expanding relationships with organizations not only as a way to recruit students but also as a way to better position graduates for employment, according to BMO’s 2016 Education and Training Report. Especially for schools focusing on or trying to transition to serving adult students, corporate partnerships can be an important source of revenue.
I sat with Lori Turec, SVP of Marketing Services and head of the Keypath Partner Network, to answer frequently asked questions about the benefits and challenges of these partnerships for both universities and organizations.
Why would a university want to build a corporate partnership?
Steve Fireng: The question isn’t should you build a corporate partnership program, it is when. We talk about a multi-channel marketing approach, and corporate partnerships are vital to this mix. They allow you to target the right students, build alliances for hiring and gain a valuable resource for curriculum development.
Lori Turec: Universities are already part of many strong partnerships: the alumni association, networks of employers hiring their graduates, research collaborations, etc. This is another piece to that puzzle. A true corporate partnership is another channel of people who will become familiar with your school, your programs and your differentiators. This is a solid base for the recruitment of students who are a great fit.
What is the benefit to an employer to partner with a university?
LT: It can help employees to achieve their educational goals, increase employee satisfaction, improve employee retention, narrow the skills gap and ultimately bolster the reputation of their organization.
SF: Career development is always in the top three reasons employees stay with or leave a company. Having a focus on universities can showcase the importance of career development and degree attainment.
What are the benefits for the employees?
LT: There may be other options for employees through a tuition reimbursement program or something that's employer-sponsored. But, true corporate partnerships offer tailored student support services that are specifically developed for a certain category of employees, recognize training they have already had and reduce the amount of time it will take to complete a course.
What constitutes a well-suited corporate partner?
SF: Identifying the right employers for a program or school is vital. The organization needs to have internal advocates for the partnership, and it should not be treated as a passive benefit. It needs to be more than just an inquiry generator for a school; it’s an educational partnership. They need to be all in and willing to actively promote the benefits to employees.
What are the most important aspects of a successful partnership?
LT: It is vital that the school and the organization have a clear understanding of each other’s goals, how to help one another and how to best support the students. There needs to be a service level agreement with buy-in from dedicated teams on both sides. Career services, admissions and student services all need to be on board with a concierge treatment of your B2B students.
SF: Look into program-specific partnerships. This will help connect the dots for employees that would directly benefit from a certain program. Remember to gather student testimonials as proof for prospective students.
Are these partnerships better suited for undergraduate or graduate programs?
LT: They have applications for both. The key point is to understand the business objectives of the employer. For example, you might have a situation like what is happening in the healthcare space right now with the shift from RN to BSN, whereas there’s an initiative to require a percentage of the workforce to obtain a certain level of education.
How can corporate partnerships alleviate the growing skills gap and positively affect student outcomes?
LT: Focusing corporate partnerships at the program level helps directly address specific skills gaps employers may be experiencing and offers employees the necessary level of education to grow to the next level within the organization.
SF: Many institutions look to corporations to understand what skills gaps they are experiencing. This can be important for curriculum development and should be an area of focus for colleges and universities. Also, I have seen some institutions customize a program, pricing and curriculum based on specific needs of an employer.
Why do corporate partnerships so often fail?
LT: There are so many opportunities for this not to work. Common problems relate to a lack of resources and bandwidth. You may have a very small staff managing a large number of employer partnerships with a check-the-box kind of approach. The school names are just thrown on the intranet as a passive benefit such as healthcare and vision, and it’s up to the employee to navigate the application process.
Could you imagine if insurance enrollment was treated like this: ‘Hey, we've put something out on the Internet, go figure it out for yourself’? No, it would never happen like that.
SF: To add to this, I have seen two main reasons. These inquiries should be treated differently, and serving them just like any other prospective student is a mistake. Since we know their intent level is high, the admissions approach should be more consultative. If the primary focus is inquiry generation and not to truly help the employees improve their career through educational pursuits, it will be a short-lived partnership.
What are some of the largest corporate partnerships out there?
LT: Probably the biggest ones in the news lately are Starbucks and Arizona State University and Georgia Tech and AT&T.
The most important thing to note here is the largest, most successful partnerships took a lot of time to build. They were carefully researched and developed considering the needs of each entity. These were supported by the highest level of leadership and are consistently promoted throughout the organization and university.
Can you describe the Keypath Partner Network?
LT: Dedicated team members work with employers to understand their business objectives and pain points, recognize their potential and identify future leaders of the organization. They take a look at the training that everybody is doing and how much of that might be able to be used to reduce admissions requirements or for transfer credit.
SF: We provide corporations, healthcare organizations and associations with access to a premier network of in-demand programs at our partner institutions. This includes student support, personalized higher education solutions, tuition discounts, a dedicated corporate admissions team and more.
How do we get started?
LT: It's very important to pick the right partners and know how you plan to measure success. Build a bridge with the alumni association, learn where your graduates are being hired and make sure you’re leveraging those relationships beyond just asking for donations to the university.
This does not have to be overwhelming. It’s a matter of getting the right people together to decide on goals and objectives. Then you need to build out a plan to make that happen.