Metrics for Corporate Engagement: Evaluate Impact, Not Quantity

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Multiple offices on a campus may establish corporate partnerships, which can make the issue of metrics for corporate engagement a complicated one. For example, the engineering school might track metrics of a company that partners with them to offer student internships and recruiting opportunities. But if that same company also funds research through that institution’s business school, and supports the institution’s philanthropic goals through a third office, just looking at the recruitment data alone may not reveal the true impact of the partnership — to the detriment of the relationship.

Keeping track of a company’s partnership impact allows institutions to be more strategic in cultivating those relationships. Metrics that measure impact may show strong partnerships with philanthropy and recruitment, and also highlight a potential for additional partnerships related to research funding, technology transfer, or student mentorship opportunities. Impact data can focus on the quality of existing partnerships and the potential for new engagement opportunities to strengthen and expand already-successful relationships.

Reinventing Partnership Metrics

Here is an example.

Over the years, Aquinas College has cultivated 1,400 corporate partnerships; now, Kathy Kremer, the dean of curriculum, explains that the challenge is to focus on impact rather than just the quantity of corporate relationships.

To do this, Aquinas will use a curricular engagement inventory to measure the impact for students who receive course credit for doing work with a corporate partner. Where the old system measured the number of hours a student worked, the new system will look at the internship’s real-world impact.

For example, Aquinas offers a community leadership major, for which students are required to complete a two-semester project with a partner and write a funding proposal for a non-profit based on that organization’s needs and goals. About 50 percent of the proposals are funded, bringing outside funding to the Grand Rapids community. Kremer suggests that measuring the impact of the internship on the community partner is more significant than tallying student hours worked.


Kansas State University is developing a customer relationship management program to compile all data relevant to the university’s corporate partnerships into one database, and they are adapting the Sales Force platform to track metrics across the institution. Food for thought: Does your institution have a central data warehouse for information on corporate relationships? If not, could you start one?

First Steps for Your Campus

If your institution is interested in making the shift to measure the quality of your corporate partnerships, we recommend:

  • Using a centralized system to track all of your institution’s corporate partnerships, with metrics in place to track both the data needed for federal reports (such as the number of hours worked for an internship) and the items that allow you to measure impact.
  • Aligning your quality metrics with your institution’s goals for corporate partnerships. Those may vary from increasing the impact of student participation to increasing the number of ways a company engages with your institution.
  • Working with all involved parties to set appropriate metrics. Quality metrics for research partnerships should include the academic departments who work with those companies, while student internships or recruitment metrics will likely involve a different set of staff.
  • Revisiting those goals and metrics on an annual basis to ensure that they are evaluating the items that your institution wants to see.