It’s never been more critical for colleges to deepen their relationships with local businesses. These strategic partnerships are an important way to keep colleges attuned to ever-changing skill needs of employers and ensure that the growing number of graduates are prepared to meet those needs.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2017-2018 close to 4,300 degree-granting postsecondary institutions were located in the United States (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). Additionally, in the fall of 2018 the National Center for Education Statistics projected 6.7 million students would attend two-year institutions and 13.3 million would attend four-year institutions (https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372). These significant enrollment numbers demonstrate the value students place on obtaining a college degree. These students are seeking degree programs offering promising career options with sustainable wages. To support job placement strategies, colleges and universities are adopting creative community partnership initiatives designed to connect students with “real world” work experiences through internships, service learning and full job placements.
In the article, “Crossing Boundaries Creating Community College Partnerships to Promote Educational Transitions,” evaluation of the benefits in alliances between community partnerships and higher education revealed that collaborative partnerships provide “ways of meeting education and economic goals at the individual, institutional, and state levels” (Amey, Eddy & Campbell, 2010). In other words, partnerships provide the benefit of sharing resources between the community partner and the institution. Specifically, students receive onsite training and learning in classroom and laboratories thanks to facility-sharing. Facility-sharing eliminates the financial burden of higher education institutions spending limited resources on equipment or construction projects, when students can develop job skills at the community partner site. As a result, successful collaborative efforts allow students to prepare for a competitive and demanding job market requiring knowledgeable and skilled workers.
From the community partner’s perspective, solid relationship building is foundational in creating successful collaborative efforts with higher education institutions (Sandy & Holland, 2006), followed by communication, mutual partnership benefits, co-planning, and accountability and leadership. These regarded characteristics further support students in service-learning, internships and job placement within community partner sites. Community partners also play a role in educating students while teaching soft skills and professional skills required for the job market. Specifically, in a qualitative study interviewing community partners to evaluate collaborative benefits, a common theme was a commitment to becoming “partners in education” to students. Partners were not only gained “volunteers through service learning and internships,” but were committed to co-teaching students and developing student learning outcomes for “career development, civic engagement, academic course content, diversity and multi-cultural skills” (Sandy & Holland, 2006). This level of partnership further secures the success of students in advancing individual professional careers and highlights the value in community collaboration with higher education institutions.
Milwaukee Area Technical College has great appreciation of community partnership and recently began a community collaboration with National Business Furniture (NBF) and the college’s commercial interior design program in May 2019. The collaboration provides these design students experience to work alongside NBF mentors through hands-on sessions on-site at NBF. MATC students are encountering real-world experiences in commercial design including planning, problem-solving and building client relationships—all necessary soft skills for the profession. Students also can see commercial products in-person versus in a textbook or PowerPoint presentation, which provides a deeper learning experience. After a semester-long design lab experience, students present individual commercial space portfolios and one student is chosen to receive an internship with NBF. This opportunity further supports the student’s learning, both educationally and professionally, and prepares him or her for a professional career in commercial design.
Another unique community relationship is MATC’s Workforce Solutions partnership with Franklin Business Park Consortium (FBPC) which has provided customized onsite training to prepare employees with in-demand skills. More than 600 employees have participated in the training since 2016 taking advantage of popular courses including Microsoft Office, Basic Skills for Supervisors, Blueprint Reading and Principles of Lean Manufacturing. David Dull, FBPC president, CEO of Allis Roller LLC and MATC board member, appreciates that employees involved with the program come from a mix of different job levels and types—from the shop floor to the office, learning together in this program. This MATC partnership “helps prepare employees for the jobs the economy relies on and helps them grow professionally, which prepares them for their future career success,” he adds. Dull, who has more than 25 years of management experience, said his goals for the collaboration included strengthening how the college and local businesses are aligned and promoting awareness of how MATC graduates, apprentices and interns fill employee needs.
Colleges who are aiming to engage in more strategic community partnerships should keep the following advice in mind:
Work closely with partners to determine their specific workplace needs and skills gaps instead of offering a menu of “off the shelf” programs.
Identify employee “ambassadors” who can help recruit additional companies and organizations to join sector partnerships.
Ensure that college staff demonstrate a deep understanding of industry issues and policies impacting employers.
Invite business partners to participate in college events outside of the specific program they are involved with in order to build engagement and strengthen long-term relationships.
Establish regular measures of progress based on the engagement goals that your strategic business partners helped to identify.
Collaborative efforts between community businesses (or organizations) and higher education institutions not only prepare students to fill the labor demands of the market and fulfill each entity’s organizational objective, but also sync community and higher education to a greater goal: embracing and perfecting the concept of teamwork. Ensuring that these partnerships are healthy and strategically positioned for growth will benefit students and the college for years to come.
Kamela J. Goodwyn, Ph.D. is Associate Dean, Milwaukee Area Technical College
Amey, M., Eddy, P. & Campbell, T. (2010). Crossing boundaries creating
community college partnerships to promote educational transitions.
Community College Review, 31(4), 333-347. doi
Sandy, M. & Holland, B. (2006). Different worlds common ground: Community partner
Perspectives on campus-community partnerships. Michigan Journal of
Community Service Learning. 30-43.
United States Department of Education (2017). A guide to changing of changing
U.S. universities. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2019-02-15/how-many-universities-are-in-the-us-and-why-that-number-is-changing