Training & Development

What leads to successful university-corporate partnerships? Selecting the right school

What should companies look for in partnerships in higher education?

The relationship between higher education and the business world has advanced from simply delivering entry-level employees into the workforce pipeline. Organizations across industries have begun to recognize the value of employing a workforce that is committed to continual growth and development.

As a result, educational assistance has become a staple in the modern employee benefits package. From an organization’s perspective, this type of professional development offering can help in achieving goals related to retention, employee engagement, professional development, succession planning, company reputation and even community enrichment. Schools also stand to benefit by attracting new, motivated students.

But successful university-corporate partnerships don’t occur by merely selecting a school at random. Organizations need to determine which institutions would be a good fit.

We talked with Michelle Goyette , director of national partnerships and resources at University of Massachusetts Global, and Nancy Salzman, vice chancellor of partnerships for the Office of Applied Innovation at University of Massachusetts Global, to find out what goes into selecting the right school. Their insights can help you determine how to proceed if your company is interested in forming a relationship with a university.

What to look for when forming a university-corporate partnership

It can be tempting to think that the university offering the biggest tuition discount is the clear choice, but there are many other factors that go into ensuring a truly successful partnership. You’ll need to consider a number of things.

1. Does the school’s vision and mission align with yours?

While some universities are primarily concerned with filling seats, that’s not true of every school. Look for a partner who will value its students — your employees — as much as you do. To do this, you’ll need to find a university that shares your culture of support and clearly understands your goals.

“There are plenty of colleges that offer scholarships,” Goyette says, “but a successful partnership is about understanding what the organization really needs.”

A valuable university partner will do more than just provide brochures and other printed materials to your office. Its representatives will take the time to develop a tailored plan with your organization’s strengths and challenges in mind. As your needs change, a good partner institution should adapt to meet those evolving goals. This is the difference between a partnership and an agreement. Salzman adds:


Communication between the partners must be ongoing and in-depth. It’s about building trust and working together.

2. Does the school have experience supporting adult learners?

When evaluating universities to partner with, consider how much experience they have working with adult students and those with families. For most organizations, these are large demographics within their employee base.

“It’s important to find an institution that is a good fit for your workforce,” Goyette points out.  “They should have experience, passion and a commitment to supporting the unique needs of adult learners.”

One of the easiest ways to determine this is by asking a university what percentage of their students work full time or have children. Institutions that have a higher share of nontraditional students are much more likely to offer services that will actually support adult learners.

“By understanding who the majority of their student body is, you can better understand where the majority of their resources go,” Salzman explains.

This might mean offering tutoring opportunities during non-work hours or ensuring that advising services are designed to help learners further develop key skills in their existing careers, rather than just catering services toward traditional students who are looking to secure their first entry-level job. At a university that truly values adult learners, an understanding of nontraditional students’ needs will exist at every level of the institution.  

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the university should offer flexible learning options. Online and self-paced programs are often more fitting for busy employees and it’s even better if they have a choice of all three modalities. Having options can help students learn when and where it works for them so they can thrive at both work and school.

3. Are the programs customizable and career-focused?

Remember to look into specific programs when comparing schools. To close any skill gaps that exist at your organization and set employees up for success, the offerings need to be relevant to their careers. Don't be afraid to dig into the course catalog and ask universities exactly what students will be taught.

“You could learn underwater basket weaving,” Goyette jokes, “but that’s not exactly applicable to developing needed workplace skills.”

Some institutions will even create custom training for their corporate partners, allowing employers to focus on the exact areas workers need to develop. University of Massachusetts Global, for example, has worked with organizations on everything from improving business communication skills to developing executive leadership capabilities.

There’s another way to determine if a university is career-focused: Look into their credit-transfer policy. Do they accept past credits? Do they offer credit for work experience and military service? By recognizing the professional progress that students have already made, universities can help students save time and money. 

4. Is the institution itself high in quality?

Like with any potential business partnership, reviewing the numbers is essential. When it comes to vetting a school, evaluating graduation rates is a good place to start. It can help indicate both student satisfaction and the success of university support services, Salzman notes.

While there are a lot of different reasons people don’t finish degrees, two common obstacles are a lack of preparation and competing obligations. A higher education institution with a high graduation rate could mean that students are given the tools necessary to navigate these challenges. Consider that University of Massachusetts Global has a graduation rate of 81 percent for returning students — well above the average for private institutions. This means that a low graduation rate should be a red flag. A substandard percentage indicates poor education standards.

Another important number to look at is the university’s loan default rate. This measures the percentage of graduates who fail to pay back — or default on — their student loans. A low default rate means that most students are earning enough to pay for their education, which indicates that alumni are putting their degrees to work. Be sure to look for rates below the national average of 10.1 percent – UMass Global, for example, has a default rate of 5.2 percent.

Finally, consider a school’s accreditation. While nationally accredited schools may sound more impressive, it’s typically regional accreditation that is more widely recognized. Because accreditation is the result of a thorough process involving a third party, it typically indicates higher academic standards and makes transferring credits much easier for students.

Find the right fit for your organization

Selecting the right school for an effective university-corporate partnership doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s about finding a good institution for your employees — one that has quality programs, great support services and a proven track record of student success.

Of course, you also need to select a school that appreciates ongoing communication, shares your vision and understands what it means to be a business partner. University of Massachusetts Global has a network of more than 2,700 companies and organizations in nearly every industry. Learn more about how to make education benefits a reality for your workforce by joining UMass Global's Partnership Network.

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