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Corporate university partnerships: No longer barbarians at the gate

The list of corporate higher ed partnerships, joint ventures, and co-branding includes America’s most venerable institutions of higher learning.
University Business, April 2015

When you watched this year’s Super Bowl, did you notice the higher education corporate partnership messaging? We were all witness to a historic NFL football broadcast from the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Think back to other sporting events like National University’s 2014 Holiday Bowl game in San Diego and you’ll find there is no shortage of co-branding and advertising partners in higher education – in fact, we see it all the time.

The list of corporate higher ed partnerships, joint ventures, and co-branding includes America’s most venerable institutions of higher learning. Consider Carnegie Mellon University’s partnership with IBM focused on cognitive computing. In collaboration with MIT, NYU, and RPI, Carnegie helped form the Cognitive Systems Consortia which has become an extension for IBM recruitment, research, and product development.

Corporate co-branding

In Kentucky, Toyota and Bluegrass Community and Technical College created an Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program where students receive an associate’s degree without ever sitting in campus classrooms. Instead, they take their classes at Toyota’s manufacturing plant nearby. Bluegrass students who graduate from the program usually get a job with Toyota for gainful employment in the high wage automotive industry.

Clemson University’s partnership with BMW creates highly skilled workers and, significantly, fellowship opportunities. These several mission complementary automotive corporate partnerships bring with them industry-specific technology transfer and workforce development.

At the worksite classroom level, higher education corporate partnerships can be deployed for recruiting scholar-practitioner faculty with valuable corporate experience – the kind of savvy that can guide and inform students through case studies, best practices, and just-in-time product manufacturing and design solutions.

From the university perspective, corporate co-brandings bring a best of breed, attractive, and competitive partner to sharpen the institutions focus and competitive higher ed market advantage. This mutual growth win-win co-branding approach extends to hundreds of successful examples in widely diverse fields of study – i.e. pro sports, healthcare, telecommunications, agriculture, and the list goes on.

For the corporation, the university co-branding partnerships bring shared research, scholarship, and return on investment. Indeed, the R&D process typically requires a significant number of bench level lab workers to support every new Ph.D research fellow. This collaboration adds new market share, extends the brand, and yields new internship and work co-op options created for the recruitment of the best and brightest students.

Predictive models

Over time, universities and corporations have become more sophisticated in their respective psychogenic market research – developing predictive models for anticipating enrollment demand, employment outlook, and future industry-wide development and strategic partnership trends.

Recently, Coca-Cola caught the attention of consumers when they partnered with Fair Oaks Farms, one of America’s largest and most prolific dairy farms and site of the Nation’s largest agritourism dairy theme park in Fair Oaks, Indiana. Among other purposes, the collaboration between Fair Oaks and Coca-Cola is to provide a nutrient rich, premium milk product.

Beyond agritourism, Fair Oaks Farm has already made links within higher ed by collaborating with Purdue University to promote educational farm visits by university students, guests, and visitors. Purdue’s students have worked as interns on the Fair Oaks Farm itself – cultivating 21st century dairy farm innovators and thought leaders. Also, Purdue faculty and students conducted field extension research with Fair Oaks to further study anaerobic digester technology to create cleaner ways to remove and reuse farm waste and create renewable energy at the same time.

We learned from Fair Oaks Farms that they are not only committed to educating the public about contemporary farming efforts and results, but also protecting the environment, caring for animals, and ensuring fresh, high quality dairy products. To this end, what would be really exciting is if Fair Oaks creates Fair Oaks U, a first of its kind virtual dairy farm university. In a variety of industries, university corporate partnerships can manage risk and reward where the institution and the corporation are co-invested in discovery research - developing new products in such emergent fields as life and pharma sciences, nanotechnology, computing, food security, and renewable energy. At the end of the day, what these several co-branding and cross marketing strategies leverage is institutional uniqueness, corporate responsibility, product development, and student and faculty aspiration.

—James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of The Provost's Handbook: The Role of the Chief Academic Officer (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.

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