How 3 Institutions Have Taken More Effective Approaches to Corporate Engagement

woman holding a pen over a clipboard

As federal funding dollars for research dry up and proposal acceptance rates drop, colleges and universities are increasingly looking to partner with private companies for research funding and other financial support. Private companies, in turn, are looking to develop more mutually beneficial partnerships with institutions, tapping institutional resources and expertise in a wider variety of ways, from research to fundraising partnerships to student recruiting.

Yet frequently, institutions don’t offer a single point of contact or a cohesive strategy for cultivating that multifaceted relationship with an industry partner in an intentional way. Different professionals on campus – from foundation offices to faculty – may be coordinating with the same partner separately and without coordination with each other.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

For example, at Rice University in Houston, TX, a central Corporate Relations office keeps track of all recruiting, research and other opportunities to keep companies engaged. Rice wants to make things as easy for corporate partners as possible, explains Ann McAdam Griffin, the associate director of corporate relations.  McAdam Griffin’s office can connect companies with a wide array of partners across campus, and they also work with partners on campus to empower and equip them to provide support. This empowers Rice University to better understand, evaluate and maintain those relationships while cultivating new ones.

If you are interested in pursuing a more holistic strategy at your institution, here are three varied, effective models you can consider – from Rice University, Kansas State, and Aquinas College.

Model 1: A Corporate Council

Officials at Rice University established the Corporate Council six years ago to better manage their corporate relationships.  The council includes representatives from all offices that interact with corporations on campus, from the foundation office to career services to departments and colleges who partner with corporations for student internships or research. Members meet regularly to address hot topics, flag companies that need support and tackle other issues as they arise.

Thanks to the council’s regular interaction, everyone who participates in corporate partnerships also knows each other and can connect more easily as they engage with private industry partners, McAdam Griffin notes.  The council can spot additional opportunities to engage corporate partners through research, recruiting and other opportunities, such as:

What You Should Think About:

In adopting a similar approach, make sure that you:

  • Include representatives from every department on campus that works with corporations in any way
  • Communicate regularly with deans, departments chairs and faculty to keep them informed about what the council does and how they can participate
  • Work to address areas of concern identified by the council with the larger campus community

Model 2: A Customer Management Platform

Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS has created an Office of Corporate Engagement and is developing a customer relationship management program (CRM) that, when operational, will compile all customer information in a single database.

Richard Potter, director of the Office of Corporate Engagement, explains that the database will allow KSU to track and analyze data that includes recruitment numbers, corporate philanthropy, sponsored research, executive education, tech licensing and more. This will allow KSU to analyze and confirm the university’s strengths and to become more strategic in how they use resources to capitalize on these relationships.

Potter notes that his office also reviews existing relationships, such as KSU’s strong connections between their College of Agriculture and the global food industry, to see what other departments, such as engineering, business or human nutrition, can bring to the table. Tracking existing relationships currently requires accessing several databases housed in separate departments across campus.

With the CRM system in place, reports will provide in a matter of minutes information that previously took weeks to compile.

What You Should Think About:

In adopting a similar approach, make sure that you:

  • Take the time to build trust with faculty
  • Hear faculty concerns and recognize them as the experts who have been cultivating these relationships
  • Communicate clearly to internal stakeholders the intent of a more central outreach and explain how this approach will open the door to more interactions between the corporate partner and the institution.

Model 3: A Partnership Strength Score

Smaller institutions can achieve a much more comprehensive approach to corporate partnerships, too.

Like Kansas State, Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI, maintains a dataset of the 1,400 partnerships they have with private companies and non-profit organizations. Kathy Kremer, Dean of Curriculum at Aquinas, explains that Aquinas updates the dataset with all academic and non-academic departments every six months. The dataset is available to all staff and faculty who can search it when they are looking to partner with an organization.

For example, if a student is looking for an internship and has an interest in a particular area, faculty members can use the database to help connect the student to existing partners.

According to Kremer, 80 percent of the college’s 2,100 students have connected with a partner during their studies.

Aquinas College has also developed a partnership strength score that they use to help move them toward their goal of having stronger relationships with existing partners. The score specifies four different kinds of partnerships, and Kremer uses the score to get a better picture of the relationship that Aquinas currently has with an organization.

The four partnership categories encompass the breadth of collaboration found at an institution of higher ed, including not only student curricular and co-curricular engagement and faculty research, but also advancement and alumni activities, as well as administrative department and senior leadership partnerships with community organizations.

This scoring also helps the college plan new approaches they may want to take with an organization in the future.

What You Should Think About:

In adopting a similar approach, make sure that you:

  • Think about how your campus can bridge the approach that academic affairs takes to corporate relationships with the approach that your corporate affairs department takes as you devise your system.
  • Focus on quality over quantity.  Your initial goal is not simply to increase the number of relationships, but to get a clearer picture of existing relationships and areas of strength or weakness based on your institution’s mission and goals.
  • Instate a process for updating the database on a regular basis to keep information current.