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Professional Opinion

Partnerships promise student success in higher ed

Public universities and private industry create win-win programs
University Business, August 2015
Mark B. Rosenberg is president of Florida International University
Mark B. Rosenberg is president of Florida International University

Rapid changes in technology, the dissolution of boundaries in the global marketplace, and innovation in research all demand a new approach to higher education.

Universities must blur the lines—between public and private, between not-for-profit and commercial, between the liberal arts and STEM—by working with industry and nonprofit organizations to create unique training, research opportunities and jobs. The world is boundary-less, and our teaching and learning must be as well.

New alliances

Florida International University in Miami is experimenting with new alliances with private industry to promote talent development, research and economic vitality. We hope that these innovative partnerships set an example for the possibilities of—to use Arizona State University President Michael Crow’s phrase—the “New American University.” Here are a few examples:

  • In March, the university cut the ribbon on a 130,000-square-foot, joint-use rehearsal and production studio built on campus by Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Students from three departments—theater, hospitality and business—get paid internships and hands-on experience in cruise-line operations, stage management, lighting, stage design, audio engineering and production. And our faculty members have access to proprietary marketing and sales data from Royal Caribbean’s six cruise brands to conduct original research.
  • In 2011, university and Miami-Dade County Public Schools launched the Education Effect in Miami Northwestern Senior High School in the Liberty City neighborhood. The partnership creates opportunities for service learning for students in environmental sciences, education, journalism and business.
  • Since 2007, the Ultimate Software Academy for Computer Science Education has created a training and employment pipeline for our students. It also mentors class projects, supplies adjunct instructors, provides scholarships, and writes letters in support of grants for the university. This relationship has so far resulted in 130 internships and 75 full-time jobs.
  • This summer, Florida Power and Light is building a solar-panel canopy over the parking lot of our engineering center. Data from the 5,700 solar panels will allow engineering students to study the real-time impact of distributed, solar-photovoltaic generation on the electric grid—research that will inform the next generation of solar power technology.

Market-relevant learning

I believe that blurring the lines is working. As public institutions, we must position ourselves as solutions centers that take responsibility in and for our community.

That means stepping out of the classroom to partner with local and global companies and nonprofits to create market-relevant learning experiences; to tie instructional and creative initiatives with real-world community needs and priorities; and, yes, to expand student internship and job opportunities. You can create your own innovative public-private partnerships.

But before launching into a joint initiative, ask:

  • Does it meet our results-oriented, student-centered educational objectives?
  • Are we arriving at state-of-the-art research solutions to practical issues in the community?
  • Does it meet the partner company’s sense of social responsibility as well as its bottom-line interests?

Our goal is to create win-win partnerships, meaning all sides can meet their objectives. A world-class education should prepare students—to paraphrase Maya Angelou—not just to make a good living but to make a good life. Family, spiritual and civic well-being are all part of our approach.

By immersing ourselves in our community and building bridges that bind, we foster the prosperity, health, opportunity and social progress that our students so ardently desire and deserve.

Mark B. Rosenberg is president of Florida International University

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