Corporate collaboration prepares college graduates for day one

Higher ed must invite industry into the classroom to design innovative career programs

Meaningful partnerships between universities and corporations require meaningful collaborations to benefit students and drive successful outcomes.

On the academic side, that means administrators and faculty have to listen closely, open our doors to collaborative creativity and be open-minded.

Working together with our partners ensures that everyone—students, institutions and partners—can be successful.

Here are a few of the principles that guide the numerous corporate partnerships across academic programs and industries at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Stay focused on graduate outcomes

As universities explore new corporate partnerships, student outcomes must guide every action taken. There are many interests to serve in such partnerships, and it is important to ensure all parties see the desired benefits.

If graduates aren’t landing jobs or employers say that graduates aren’t prepared for those jobs, we’ve failed. The more we equip these students for the choices they have beyond graduation, the more prepared they will be to lead successful, fulfilling lives.

Shut your mouth and open your ears

Colleges and universities also need to stop telling corporations about how great their graduates are and start listening to what corporate partners need from graduates. Corporate partners often tell us that they don’t care about GPAs. They need graduates who are ready to tackle work on day one.

According to Dustin Loeffler, associate professor and director of graduate studies in business at Maryville, corporate partners say that recent college graduates may have studied a particular task related to their field, but they don’t have the skills to handle it.

Providing meaningful skills and preparation for day-one readiness is why we built experiential learning into the Maryville curriculum. For example, in our Cyber Fusion Center, students work to create more secure technology infrastructure for more than 150 nonprofit clients who don’t have resources to pay for data security.

Give corporate partners a say in program development

It’s hard to share the driver’s seat in something as important as curriculum development. The very idea ruffles many feathers in academia. The stakes are high, however, as our graduates’ futures hang in the balance.

To help them compete in the workforce upon graduation, universities must work closely with corporations to tailor the education they provide to the skills graduates actually need.

One example at Maryville is the Rawlings Sport Business Management program. Rawlings, the equipment manufacturer, was heavily involved in creating the program and developing the original curricula for product development and sports marketing courses.

The Rawlings program’s advisory council has representatives from sports entities such as Stadia Ventures.

Council members meet regularly with Jason Williams, Maryville’s director of sport business management, to help ensure that the program’s curriculum and the skills attained by students are relevant in the changing sports market.

As a result of their efforts, 92 percent of the program’s graduates are employed in the field within six months of graduation.

Corporate partnerships offer opportunities to create a more robust, well-rounded education so graduates’ skills match employers’ needs. To take full advantage of these opportunities, it’s vital to jettison old approaches, eliminate barriers to collaboration and work to establish deep, lasting relationships.

We can’t keep our partners at arm’s length. We have to listen, collaborate and make meaningful investments in the future, together.

Mark Lombardi is president of Maryville University in St. Louis.


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