Your Chamber of Commerce Can Start a Learning Cohort with a Local College or University.

If you are a member in any Chamber of Commerce, take a look at the college and university learning options you may be able to offer to your membership through a local college or university.

General Business College Cohort Programs

Designing Degree and Certificate Programs Design custom learning programs.  If your communities have a new or developing opportunity for new business(es), you can design custom certificate and other learning programs.

Learning Launch: 3-5 courses designed for your members who are not quite ready for typical college course work.

Custom GenEds:  Develop a pre-schedued set of undergraduate general education courses for your members.  These typically provide the standard courses needed for a variety of degrees.  These courses and their schedule can be selected and pre-scheduled by your chamber and its college or university academic partner.

Custom Degrees:  Develop a pre-scheduled set of undergraduate and graduate degree programs for your members.

Mini-MBA:  Design a 12-18 week program where your members are given basic exposure to MBA topics.  The ‘Mini’ concept can be applied to other content areas that benefit membership as well.

Business Informatics:  Design a custom course or set of courses for your organization that focus on the tools of data collection and analysis.

MBA:  Create an MBA (or any other graduate degree) program exclusively for your chamber members.  Leverage the value of learning for your organization while also creating workplace relationships that can help move your business(es) forward.  This can also be done as a consortium of chambers of commerce coming together to work with local academic partners.

Click here for more information.

Here is another blog story on companies and communities driving the change in adult learning.

Quick Poll:  Which of the programs listed above would you like to offer to your membership?


The Innovative University by Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring (Author Interview Series)

A balanced article with logical emphasis on moving more aggressively toward change in higher education.

Higher Ed Management

Clayton Christensen introduced the concept of “disruptive innovation” in the late 1990s. Since then, it has been used in multiple sectors to explain the impact of new technologies, the rise and fall of organizations, and the best ways to increase innovation within established organizations. With co-author Henry Eyring, Christensen has applied the theory to higher education in The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out. Below, Mr Eyring discusses some of the books more pertinent elements for the readers of Higher Education Management.

KCH: Let’s start with the basics: what’s the book’s core message?The Innovative University - Book cover

HE: The book’s core message is that fundamental change is coming to higher education.  We’re seeing the confluence of unsustainable cost increases in the traditional model and a disruptive technology, online learning, that makes it possible to serve many more students at high quality and affordable cost.  The…

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4 College Cohort Programs Your Organization Can Start First with Local Colleges and Universities

I have listed 4  cohort programs in order of priority for your organization to consider in developing and implementing formal learning with local colleges our universities.  Of course, each organization will adapt to its business needs first.  But, these 4 are programs that can be successful and help build your learning culture.

1.  Degree building:  Adults tend to want successes in smaller increments than 120 – credit bachelor degrees.  Break bachelor -or even associate degree cohorts into smaller degree-building sets of courses.  You might have one set of courses for quantitative subjects (math, science).  You might have a second for basic communication skills ( writing and speaking).  Look at wrapping up the degree-building program with sets of courses in the degree subject matter ( science, business, etc.).  Make sure to celebrate the successful completion of each degree-building set of courses with your employees.

2.   Graduate business:  Depending on your organization’s needs, look to establish an MBA – or graduate degree programs in project management, leadership, or management.  Remember, one of the main values of cohort learning is the business relationships and ideas that develop in the context of academic learning.  These graduate level programs will provide your organization with formal learning at both graduate and undergraduate degree levels.

3.  Specialty certificates:  A reasonable argument can be made that workplace cohorts of college students focusing on skill-specific courses will gain more value at a lower cost.  If you business is customer-service heavy, develop a company-specific certificate that focuses on those skill sets. Ideally, make the courses offered by a college or university ones that can build toward a degree.  If you are uncomfortable with your organization’s overall analytical skills, work with an academic partner to create a 3-5 course certificate program with math, statistics, and logic courses.

4.  College preparation for 1st generation adult college students:  Many companies and communities will have employees not currently ready for their first, official college courses.  Develop a working relationship with one or more local colleges or universities to develop   college preparation courses.  These may not be for college credit, but they will increase the basic learning for your employees and prepare some for progress toward a useful degree for your company or community.

Finally,  one of the key components to a successful academic partnership with local colleges and universities is to negotiate flat rate pricing per class.

Should Companies Only Use Local Colleges and Universities?

In the last decade or so higher education has seen a substantial increase in the number of national, online learning vendors.  I will make the argument that, like politics, higher education for adults is best served locally.

In my experience, one of the most substantive points of value for the college cohorts I created was the work-place relationships established.  The content offered through our academic partnerships was the same as that offered in open enrollment classes at most universities.  However, the value from having employees learn together was obvious to us, but difficult to measure.

Imagine a scenario when you have your members of your organization learning the same college course content term after term.  The class discussions will more likely  focus on how the academic content can be applied to your company or organization.  The cohort of learners can become a focal point for change and growth in your organization.  They are taking the daily tasks and responsibilities of the job and evaluating those items in the context of new learning.

In addition, think about the relationships your company or organization can establish with your local college or university.  The career placement team can help you identify talent, the faculty can become off-line resources for the latest in research and practice that could benefit your organization, and they both come together from an organization that is making your employees better employees.

In a May 2013 report, Gallup suggests that CEOs and other executive leaders of organizations must get to know their local college and university leaders.

Here are 3 reasons to focus on creating academic partnerships and college cohorts with local colleges and universities:  

1.  Keep the talent local.  Whether your company is local, regional, national, or international, your community is best served by those who live there.  The natural incentive to ‘make home better’ is best served by those who live and work in your community.  Both the faculty from the local colleges and universities  — and your employees or members provide talent.  Farming out faculty talent to far off lands can make your local business community weaker.

2.  It creates the opportunity to improve the community.  National college and university brands may provide strong marketing and brand management, but they can’t be everywhere for everybody.  Working with your local higher education providers will provide benefits to the community that cannot be readily matched.

3.  Relationship leverage:  If you think about the first 2 reasons to only use local colleges and universities, it leads to the third reason.  Your business — all business – is based on relationships.  The business intimacy of those local relationships is one that long-distance relationships cannot match with the same degree of success.

Pre-Case study: Degree-Building Cohorts

Degree-Building Cohorts

Note:  This is one, in a series, of pre-case studies that demonstrate how your organization can create learning cohorts.

Executive summary:  This organization was looking for way to improve its employee satisfaction while developing systems and process to ‘grow their own’ future, skilled employees. A business learning unit was formed to provide both internal learning events and external academic partnerships.

Describe the problem:  Employees used their tuition reimbursement benefit, but it was done so at a variety of colleges and universities.  The organization wanted to both increase college degrees while having some leverage on the costs of tuition. The tuition reimbursement benefit was becoming cumbersome and difficult to manage.  Employees were taking courses from a variety of local and national colleges and universities.  There was no way to monitor the quality or comparative cost.

In this particular program, the company wanted to design a set of college courses that would help employees complete the general education courses needed.  It planned on then providing employees with a degree program that would benefit both the employee and the university.

ID Corporate and business strategy:  This organization wanted to create college learning opportunities for all of their employees.  The corporate training unit was tasked with moving that strategy forward.

Major Problems:  Employee interest, internal accounting, classroom space, quality control of faculty,

Details on the implemented solution:  The company identified a local university provider that was willing and able to create a set of college courses that would satisfy the general education requirements for many bachelor degree programs.

The learning unit worked to market the degree-building program to employees. The classes were to be held at the company’s location(s) one night per week in the evenings.  The initial response from employees was modest and included an attrition rate that potentially impacted the viability of the program.

The company negotiated substantial tuition discounts with its university partner.  The partner was able to direct bill the company for tuition for each employee participant.  In addition, the university relied on using the company for program marketing, classroom space, and on-site support.  The university provided the company with dedicated support staff from the university.

Outcome:  The organization was able to slowly grow the program in its first 2-3 years.  Early attrition problems subsided as the employee base started to recognize the opportunity – and a more interested set of employees started enrolling in the program. Subsequently, employee interest peeked to the extent that the company had to double the number of cohort groups it offered.

A single, company-endorsed bachelor completion program and a specialty associate degree program were developed and offered to employees. Both were well received.

Substantial tuition cost savings were documented.

Rapid Skill-Building Cohorts: The ‘Mini’ Movement

One of the cohort programs I helped develop and grow was something called a ‘Mini-MBA’.   In its essence, it was a 16-week program that provide MBA-type content to our supervisory and junior management employees  Sixteen different instructors covered 16 different topics.  There were no tests and very little homework.  The employees were able to study higher-level business content, quickly – and with their colleagues.  In some cases, the Mini-MBA served as a precursor to a full MBA or other business degree.  In many cases, the program offered just enough business acumen to make the employees more valuable to the organization.

Here is the business case.

Executive summary:

This organization wanted to provide a quick and concise program that provided current business skills and perspectives to those in its organization that did not really know if they wanted to pursue formal business courses at a college or university.  A program was developed and delivered that employees completed in 13-16, weekly, 3-hour classroom sessions.  The university partner provided a certificate of completion to successful participants.

Describe the problem:  There was a large employee population that needed a more thorough understanding of both general and industry-specific business skills.  Many had extensive technical or operational skills, but limited exposure the business or management content.  The company wanted to limit its exposure to long-term tuition costs, plus they wanted some customization of the content for their industry.

The non-credit courses were outside of the organization’s tuition reimbursement policies, and had to be paid for from budgeted learning accounts in each department or business unit.

Corporate and business strategy:  Find an academic partner that would be able and willing to provide custom business content in a non-credit setting.   Negotiate a flat-rate price with minimum and maximum employee participation numbers.

Details on the implemented solution: A local university was identified that had previously offered something called a ‘mini-MBA’.  The program ran once a week for 16 consecutive weeks.  The company worked with the university to customize some of the content for its industry and negotiated a flat rate for the set of courses that made up the ‘mini-MBA’ program.

Initial marketing for the program was done based on a manager’s recommendation of an employee’s potential.  After a few cycles of the program, the recommendation part was eliminated – and employees were able to make direct application to the program.

Since this was a non-credit program, it was marketed to employees as a program that had no tests and no homework.  For the most part, all of the content and learning was presented during the 3-hour weekly class sessions.

Major Problems:  Because it was not-for-credit, the program was difficult to market to internal employees.  Registration was typically slow – yet almost all classes were offered regularly.  The lack of tuition reimbursement funds for the program made many managers hesitant to support their employee’s interest in the program.

Outcome: Enrollment remained solid, but inconsistent.  Initially, successfully offered twice per year, employee demand diminished and the offerings became annual.  After about 8 years, the ‘mini’ concept was expanded to more industry-specific programs for employees.

Goals of academic partnerships.

By definition, academic partnerships bring companies or communities together to form groups of learners (cohorts).
When properly developed, academic partnerships have these goals:
  • Provide learning opportunities for all employees consistent with the organization’s and employees’ needs.
  • Reduce tuition costs through flat-rate pricing model
  • Provide focused, formal learning for participants
  • Create certificate and degree learning cohorts that leverage unit volume for lower tuition costs
  • Improve organizational relationships through the use of certificate and degree programs
  • Leverage technology to combine classroom sessions for the benefit of organization’s relationships
  • Leverage technology to lower costs of learning
  • Develop new organizational skills to create, maintain or catch up to sustainable competitive advantages
  • Develop internal systems to create specific professionals for future workplace shortages.

Each of these goals focus on bringing adult learners together in a non-traditional higher education learning model.  Instead of a company or community sending individual learners to a disparate set of colleges and universities, this model brings learners together under one, manageable umbrella.  Ideally, the host company or community provides the learning facility, marketing, and on-site support.  In exchange, the college or university generates incremental revenue with a lower cost base – that is then shared with the host company or community.

The business model is one that provides companies with a focused learning group and the college or university with new students.

Somewhere, somebody calls that ‘win-win’.