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Community Colleges Seek to Boost School Presence with Partnerships

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Community colleges are the most likely among all kinds of post-secondary schools to view their work with external partners, such as employers and industry or even other institutions, as worthwhile. In a recently published survey, 57 percent of community colleges ranked partnerships "of all kinds" of the "highest importance," compared to just 21 percent of four-year private colleges and universities and 28 percent of four-year publics.

The survey was conducted earlier this year by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and Blackboard, with online responses from 265 people who work in professional, continuing and online education units at colleges and universities across the United States.

The most common form of partnership, used by 48 percent of respondents, was to engage employers in customizing or co-designing curriculum. Forty-five percent also populate advisory boards with partner representatives, and 36 percent run internship programs with partners to give students "hands-on learning." Thirty percent offer tuition discounts to partner employees.

Although respondents identified numerous benefits for their partnerships, the one most frequently cited was to strengthen their schools' presence in the community; that was the top benefit for 87 percent of community colleges. Nearly half of all institutions — 47 percent — reported that their partnerships helped them develop a "more reliable enrollment pipeline." And more than a third — 39 percent — also stated that their partnerships gave them a "broader range of options connected to outcomes."

The report also offered advice regarding how to set up a partnership with staying power:

  • Follow a standard operating procedure as part of the partnership agreement. For example, advised co-author Christina Fleming, general manager for Blackboard's marketing and enrollment practice, in a blog post about the report, "Set up a regular cadence of meetings, reports, and shared experiences or content to ensure that everyone is aligned on expectations." She also advised regular communications and check-ins to gauge continued executive commitment.
  • Use protocols and benchmarks, such as key performance metrics, to help monitor progress against goals.
  • Consider hosting common data in a central location, such as a constituent relationship management system or business intelligence application.
  • Have feedback loops for monitoring participation and communicating possible problems.

The full report is available through registration on the Blackboard website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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