Five Tips for Community Colleges Developing Industry Partnerships

On September 9, Scott Laband, President of Colorado Succeeds, participated on a panel discussion with the Colorado Community College System Board and college presidents focused on the ways in which community colleges can partner with business to give their students a game-changing education that leads to a fruitful career.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the world has accelerated by five years and businesses are not expecting the situation to stabilize anytime soon. This creates both challenges and opportunities for community colleges. More than anything, a sense of urgency and agile mindsets and actions are needed now more than ever. Employers are adapting and many plan to continue remote work for the foreseeable future – including everything from hiring and on-boarding, to managing employees. For community colleges, this means that geographic location is no longer a boundary to developing partnerships that connect students with available careers and support employers with their talent development and professional learning needs.  

Here are Scott’s five tips for building these critical opportunities:  

  1. Understand that you are doing right by your students when you treat businesses as your customer. If you ask students why they invest in higher education, they say it’s to get a great job. The best way for you to support that goal is to provide them with the skills and experience that directly aligns with the needs of industry. By building relationships with industry and better understanding their talent pipeline needs, you’re serving your students as well.
  2. Create an explicit focus on pathways to not only a bachelor’s degree, but to careers as well. Know the employment rates of your graduates and continually track how well you’re doing in connecting your students with the career pathways that are available. This allows you to identify what partnerships are performing well and where there is opportunity to build new relationships to better serve student needs.
  3. Hold your deans accountable for aligning their programs with the economic data in the Colorado Pipeline Report. This report provides a list of top jobs in Colorado broken down by region and includes information on annual earnings, number of annual openings and required education and training. Make it clear that it’s critical to audit your list of programs and courses yearly to eliminate outdated programs, continue investment in the ones that are working and build new ones that are responsive to changing trends.
  4. Build your curriculum to be split into smaller units that provide discrete skills aligned with the needs of industry that can be completed more quickly and ultimately stacked into degree programs. For example, instead of the two-year, Associates Degree, consider building a low-cost certification or credentialing program that is responsive to industry needs and can be completed by a part-time student in less than a year. Then, make sure it stacks into the more traditional degree programs that you offer.
  5. If it doesn’t make sense for your institution to build those kinds of programs, provide credit to the completers of those who do. For example, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google and Walmart are just a handful of companies that have created their own certificate programs for their technology, tools, and customer service requirements. By providing credit for opportunities like these, you align your program with industry needs, while also increasing your applicant pool, which also serves the important goal of increasing equity and access.

Despite the many challenges facing Colorado in the current moment, new opportunity exists to provide community college students with the competencies, experiences and principles that will prepare them for the future of work. Industry partnership is a critical component of that effort.

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Colorado Succeeds