More than a revenue source. In an era of state funding cutbacks and declining enrollments, some community colleges are finding that the corporate college model can be a great way to grow revenue. But they have many other benefits, from increasing enrollment ot encouraging philanthropy.
By Ellie Ashford, Published September 11, 2015
A corporate college is generally run more like a business than a traditional academic department, with the ability to create customized training to respond quickly to employer’s needs.
“A corporate college has to structure itself differently. You have sales people, rather than admissions people,” says Eugene Giovannini, president of Maricopa Corporate College in the Maricopa Community College System in Arizona. At the Corporate College, “marketing personnel are at the table with every client every step of the way.”
Serving a Broader Mission
Because a corporate college functions as a business, its revenue should "more than pay for itself,” Giovannini says. “But community colleges shouldn’t be in this just to make money; it should also serve the college’s workforce mission.”
The real value is in engaging the community, Giovannini says, and a corporate college gives a college more credibility.
“As large companies see the value of a community college, they are more likely to engage in philanthropy,” he says. Also, a corporate college gives students in credit programs more opportunities for finding jobs at partnering companies.
Corporate College: Not your Typical Job Training
While Maricopa Corporate College started just two years ago — this is its first full year of operation — it’s already seeing success. The college recently developed a classroom on the site of an Amazon facility, with the company paying 95 percent of tuition for courses taken by employees whether the courses are required for their jobs or not. For example, the facility currently offers programs leading to certifications for accountants, computer technicians and pharmacy technicians.
While the Corporate College at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) in Ohio brings in revenue, its primary goal is to “further the college’s mission to help businesses achieve their bottom-line objectives,” says William Gary, Tri-C's executive vice president of workforce and economic development.
Its corporate college was started in 2003 as a “complete one-stop operation,” offering professional development to businesses, along with a 107,000-square-foot conference facility that provides meeting rooms, catering and IT support. Among its programs are leadership training, using the Lean Six Sigma approach, along with training in customer service and project management for employees of the Cleveland Clinic and American Greetings Corp., Gary says.
He sees Tri-C’s Corporate College as “a drawing card to increase enrollment,” as people who’ve been through professional development come back to pursue an associate degree or certificate.
Before Lone Star College (LSC) in Texas launched a corporate college, “big business didn’t think community colleges understood them,” and because most CEOs hadn’t gone to community colleges, “they didn’t understand us,” says Linda Head, associate vice chancellor of workforce development and LSC's Corporate College.
Now, “they see the value,” Head says. “They want to invest in us; they are sponsoring scholarships and donating equipment. And most important, they are hiring our students.”
According to Head, customized training provides a steady, alternative funding stream, whereas applying for large grants is time-consuming and doesn’t always pay off.
Lone Star’s Corporate College serves approximately 50 to 60 employers a year, most of them Fortune 500 companies. One of its biggest partnerships includes delivering about 100 courses in machining, hydraulics, electricity and manufacturing for National Oilwell Varco. Other clients in the oil and gas sector include Tenaris, Baker Hughes, FMC Technologies, Ableman Drilling Careers Academy and Stewart & Stevenson.
The college also sent instructors to Malta to provide training in oil and gas drilling, delivered truck driving lessons for Stevens Transport and developed a variety of courses – in such topics as English as a second language (ESOL), project management, frontline supervision, workplace safety and teamwork – to companies in advanced manufacturing, computer technology, healthcare and logistics.
Courses can be customized and delivered at company’s worksite, at a Lone Star campus, online, or in a hybrid format.
A Higher Profile
The Workforce and Professional Development Institute at the College of Lake County in Illinois adds to the college’s bottom line, which helps offset cuts in state aid and declining enrollment in academic programs, says Eric Kurtz, director of client solutions. Sometimes employees who’ve been through corporate training programs enroll in credit courses or send their children to the college.
The institute also works with the college’s fundraising office to reach out to corporations and help broker an introduction, Kurtz says.
Most of the training is in project management and leadership development, including coaching and small group facilitation, for first-time supervisors all the way up to the corporate suite, Kurtz says. The institute also provides training in ESOL, technical writing, instruction in other languages for American employees transferred abroad, wellness and computer skills.
Last year, the institute conducted 271 training sessions for about 50 companies, including CDW, Medline Industries, the Barilla pasta company and the Cancer Treatment Center.
The Corporate Learning Center at Central Piedmont Community College is the largest producer of self-supporting revenue in the North Carolina community college system, says Mary Vickers-Koch, dean of industry and business learning. The center has also contributed to “increased investment and respect in the community” for CPCC, she notes.
The center specializes in leadership training, including Six Sigma, and project management. Its biggest client is Seimens, which has a large gas generator manufacturing plant in the area.
Vickers-Koch sees an increased demand among local businesses for training in “soft skills,” like team building. The center hosted an activity at CPCC’s culinary arts department where employees of a local company learned team-building skills while preparing a meal together.
A Broader Reach
All of the community colleges cited here are members of the Global Corporate College (GCC), a relatively new network of 46 colleges nationwide that provide customized training to corporations.
“Historically, colleges have had a long history working locally with business and industry to provide training to incumbent workers. What makes GCC unique is its focus on bringing colleges together to provide solutions for companies with multiple locations around the country,” says Andrew Meyer, GCC president and vice president for workforce development at the League for Innovation in the Community College.
The GCC, for example, has helped the College of Lake County provide training in financial management to employees at Abbot Laboratories who are not professionals in that field at Abbott facilities in California, Ireland, Belgium, and Japan.
Maricopa’s Corporate College has collaborated with GCC members to conduct training in customer service for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Sprouts grocery chain, Marriott and Nissan. Being part of the GCC network “shows companies with a global footprint that we can take care of them anywhere in the country,” says Giovannini.
Lone Star also participated in a major training effort with TSA personnel, says Head, but is also part of a new group of about seven community college leaders planning to meet this fall to discuss corporate college trends and ways to work together on a smaller scale to provide technical and behavioral skills training.
For other community colleges interested in launching a corporate college, the college leaders quoted here believe it’s essential to listen to business leaders and understand their training needs. As Kurtz puts it, “There’s no replacement for a needs analysis.”
“At the end of the day we’re building relationships,” he says. “Companies understand that community colleges are the knowledge leaders and thought leaders in our arena and they trust us. We’re not fly by night. We have a whole institution of learning standing behind us. We’re not going away.”
Corporate college leaders also stress the importance of a dedicated sales team.
“You can’t have people in charge of training also doing the selling and marketing,” says Vickers-Koch.
As part of Lone Star’s efforts to change the culture to ensure a high-quality workforce program, the college created a new position, “workforce instructor,” without tenure but with higher pay than regular faculty.
Corporate college instructors are full-time employees working a 12-month schedule. At the end of the year, the college doesn’t have to keep them if the demand is no longer there. That enables the college to be flexible and respond quickly to changes in the local economy.
“The process to deliver instruction and design programs has to be much more efficient than what happens in traditional education," Head says. “It requires a quick turnaround, and instead of sharing information with others, it’s more about listening, discerning companies’ needs and finding solutions.”
The Lone Star Corporate College has already started or is launching a total of four high-level advisory councils that include the chancellor and college presidents, as well as business leaders, for energy and manufacturing, healthcare, commercial and industrial construction, and chief information officers.
“The more you get your college’s CEOs really engaged with big business – and also small businesses – at a more in-depth level, the more they will understand what business needs,” Head says. “And that will help your institution be more successful with workforce education in general, not just the corporate college piece.”
Published by Community College Daily.