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Industry-university partnerships prepare students for careers


Most students enter a university hoping to learn the hard and soft skills they need to be successful as they move through their lives and careers. But in an environment where entire industries can be upended with the introduction of a new gadget or app, the task of providing relevant knowledge to students is a growing challenge for universities.

Many employers are seeing small pools of potential candidates to fill the jobs they need, and many of those candidates are lacking in key skills and not work-force ready. An increasing number of partnerships between universities and corporations aims to close the skills gap and prepare more students for the challenges of a career in technology.

Traditionally relationships between universities and corporations have been transactional—universities spending money for products and services—and fraught with skepticism from those who see corporate partnerships only in the context for for-profit universities and expensive software programs.

Pioneering institutions looking to better prepare their students for the work force are starting to build deeper relationships with companies. Universities still retain traditional relationships with companies, but are increasingly seeing the benefits of true partnership.

campus connections

Facing similar challenges

Microsoft has also been working with university leaders to facilitate collaboration across industries and institutions. Earlier this year, Microsoft partnered with a company called Internet2 to host an event called the Campus Connections Summit. Operating under the premise that pressing issues facing a university aren’t so different than what corporations are dealing with, more than 140 global university decision makers gathered to discuss the challenges of big data. The conference consisted of presentations by universities on how they used big data to solve student problems, discussion groups, and tours of Microsoft’s campus with a focus on how Microsoft solves its own workplace challenges. Microsoft’s goal was to foster deep connections with and among universities in the hope that both the company and universities could learn problem-solving skills from each other. The company sees the Summit as a significant step in an ongoing conversation between corporations and universities.

Further, to reverse what it says is a shortage of qualified workers, Microsoft has developed the Microsoft Professional Program, a series of online courses designed to give students real-world experience through coursework and hands-on labs. Students can study such curricular tracks as big data, data science, and front-end web development. Each course includes assessments to insure mastery. After completing all courses, students solve a real-life business issue in a capstone course. Upon successful completion, students receive a Microsoft-certified credential that could be used for resumes.

Instructors for the courses come from both industry and academe. “Working with our peers in higher education has been exhilarating” said Chris Roy, Senior Director of Learning Services at Microsoft. “The partnerships we’ve developed with academic institutions are enabling us to build courses and programs that leverage the best of higher education and industry.”

“Leveraging the best of Microsoft and the best of higher education is enabling us to get the skills necessary for digital transformation into the marketplace faster and with higher quality than we ever thought possible,” said Roy.

Facilitating research collaboration

Internet2, a nonprofit headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been bridging the gap between industry and universities for more than 20 years. Founded by 35 research universities, Internet2 provides a national technology infrastructure and advanced research network that serves as a collaboration environment for many of the nation’s researchers. It serves to connect researchers to collaborate and solve common technology challenges and to develop innovative solutions in support of their educational, research, and service missions.

Researchers from universities, business, and government use our collaboration tech network to advance research across the spectrum of research needs, including non-traditional disciplines

“Researchers from universities, business, and government use our collaboration tech network to advance research across the spectrum of research needs, including non-traditional disciplines,” says Shelton Waggener, senior vice president of Internet2. “Working with universities can be a challenge for industry, as they typically want to work with specific researchers, but it can be very difficult to find the right individual or group of decision makers.” Waggener notes that Internet2 provides a national forum for industry to engage with universities and regional research and education networks to understand what services they need. According to Florence Hudson, senior vice president and chief innovation officer at Internet2, students may not realize the resources they are using at an individual campus are part of a much larger national program, but they benefit from the collaborations that Internet2 fosters.

Partnering for process improvement

Nuventive, headquartered in Pittsburgh, works with colleges and universities to improve personal and institutional performance by uniting data and planning. According to CEO Dave Raney, colleges and universities typically come to Nuventive looking for a solution to streamline one process (for example, academic outcomes assessment or strategic planning) but often wind up working with them on other improvement initiatives as well.

Nuventive’s goal is to develop an ongoing relationship with their partner universities to understand their changing needs over time. Raney, who comes from an academic environment, says, “Higher-education institutions are vibrant, but they’re different from traditional business organizations. Faculty have a strong culture of inquiry that aligns very strongly with improvement initiatives.” For industry to work well with colleges and universities related to institutional improvement or student success, Raney says there needs to be meaningful faculty participation.

Planning for growth in emerging markets

Universities in emerging markets looking to expand their programs in a thoughtful and sustainable way turn to ILUMNO, a Miami-based technology-services company. ILUMNO focuses on four areas: supporting growth and student outcomes, bringing digital learning tools to the classroom, optimizing planning, and helping achieve financial goals. ILUMNO, which started in 2005, now has 250,000 students across a network of 16 universities in Latin America.

Universities are respected for their traditions and commitment to academic standards, but often challenged to respond to dynamic changes and modern expectations of students and employers.

All the university partners have outperformed the market in growth and financial performance, and most have below-average dropout rates. These universities are also seeing a higher rate of employability for their students, with 87 percent of graduates employed within 90 days.

“Higher Education is unique,” says Pete Pizarro, ILUMNO’s president and chief executive officer. “Universities are respected for their traditions and commitment to academic standards, but often challenged to respond to dynamic changes and modern expectations of students and employers. We form comprehensive partnerships to give universities the agility they seek, while preserving their valued traditions, and maintaining the high standards employers trust.”

Bridging gaps with strategic partnerships

As the skills needed for students to be career-ready are constantly changing, universities and corporations are increasingly seeking out new partnerships to better prepare students for the 21st-century economy. The forms these partnerships take vary and can be as comprehensive as total outsourcing of an administrative function or a close collaboration on curriculum development. By working more closely with the corporate sector, higher-ed institutions will continue to develop a deeper understanding of market needs, create more compatible course offerings, and better prepare graduates for success.

This content was paid for and created by Microsoft.

The editorial staff of The Chronicle had no role in its preparation.

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