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Corporate partnerships are the lynchpin for many college programs

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A partnership with John Deere has been a boon for Southeast Community College in Nebraska.

​For community colleges facing tight budgets, corporate partnerships are more important than ever in supporting ongoing instructional programs and new initiatives.

If planned well, partnerships are a win-win for both parties. They can provide the kind of job training that companies need to create a high-quality workforce, and community colleges get access to the equipment or facilities they couldn’t otherwise afford.

In California, MiraCosta College was able to develop a biotechnology facility with funding from several area companies. The firms have also provided lab equipment, assistance with curriculum development, internships, scholarships and job placement.

In rural Mississippi, which has been hit hard by factory closings in recent years, Itawamba Community College is working with Toyota and auto parts suppliers to train employees for new manufacturing plants expected to bring about 2,500 jobs to the area.

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The American Association of Community Colleges is involved in several corporate partnerships. The Trades in Focus campaign, funded by W.W. Grainger Inc., for example, produced a toolkit that colleges can use to promote their skilled trade programs. Another example is the $2.5 million Wal-Mart Workforce Economic Opportunity Initiative, which helped 20 rural community colleges develop job training programs.

Access to technology

Corporate partnerships benefit colleges by providing access to the most up-to-date technology, said Dennis Headrick, vice president of instruction at Southeast Community College (SCC) in Nebraska. SCC’s  most lucrative and longest-running relationship is with the John Deere Corp., which provides about $1 million worth of "rolling stock"—vehicles such as trucks and tractors— to SCC’s rural Milford Campus and pays the tuition for students who agree to work in John Deere dealerships. About 95 students in the program are pursuing associate degrees in applied science with the goal of working as technicians on John Deere agricultural and construction equipment or vehicles.

“It’s a back-and-forth scenario, where students have a cooperative experience at the dealership and apply the skills they learned, then come back to the college for additional training,” Headrick said.

SCC also has a contract worth more than $2 million a year to provide college instructors that deliver non-credit training to employees at 23 John Deere facilities in the U.S. and Canada.

The college’s Milford Campus has several other automotive-related partnerships, including a truck driver training program leading to a certificate, with trucks and trailers donated by the Crete Carrier Corp., Headrick said.

Both Ford and General Motors pay tuition for students who agree to work at dealerships after they graduate. The companies also provide cars and software for the college’s automotive technology program.

SCC’s Health Sciences Division has a partnership with BryanLGH Hospital in Lincoln, which allows students to take advantage of the hospital’s learning center equipped with remote-controlled robotic manikins posing as patients. Nursing, respiratory care, radiology and other allied health students from both SCC’s Lincoln Campus and the hospital’s health college can practice with the manikins in various patient diagnostic and treatment scenarios.

Specialized training

Yavapai Community College (YCC) in Arizona, has received more than $5 million in the past five years in equipment, wages and scholarships from the Freeport-McMoRan mining conglomerate, according to John Morgan, dean of career and technical education at the college. The company pays full tuition and covers the cost of books, tools and other needs for students earning associate of applied science degrees with the goal of becoming industrial electricians, diesel technicians or industrial plant technicians.

About 40 to 60 students in the program, ranging from age 18 to 55, take classes three days a week while they are paid to work at the company’s open-pit copper mine two days a week.

Freeport-McMoRan doesn’t guarantee jobs to graduates, Morgan said, but the company has hired 100 percent of the students who have completed the program. There’s plenty of demand for copper now, so students can be assured of good job that pays more than $20 an hour after they graduate.

The company has provided to YCC big industrial switch gears; large electric motors, industrial pumps, and valves; conveyance systems; crushers; huge hauling trucks; backhoes; and graders, Morgan said. It also helped the college retrofit an entire building, built classrooms and labs and advises YCC on curriculum design.

Another partnership at YCC supports the college’s helicopter pilot training program. Guidance Helicopters provided the college with about a dozen helicopters and flight training, which Morgan estimates is worth about $8 million a year.

YCC could not afford to offer these kinds of programs without corporate partnerships, Morgan said.

A stable workforce

Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC) in Kentucky is part of unique partnership with the University of Louisville and UPS, the state’s largest employer, that provides free college tuition to UPS employees.

Rather than training students for long-term careers at UPS, the partnership is aimed at “stabilizing the company's part-time workforce,” said George Poling, executive director of Metropolitan College (MC), an entity formed by the three partners to help students integrate their education and career goals.

Participants in the MC program work part-time night shifts at the next-day air operation at the UPS Worldport facility, while taking college courses during the day. Nearly 790 JCTC students participated in the program last spring.

Students can work toward a certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree in any program of study. Their tuition is fully covered as long as they earn at least six or more credits a semester with a grade of "C" or better and have no withdrawals, failures or incompletes, Poling said. Half of the tuition is paid by UPS and half by the state.

MC was a critical factor in encouraging UPS to stay in Kentucky and expand Worldport.

“They weren’t sure if they could find enough workers,” Poling said. With the MC program, “turnover has reduced dramatically.”

MC provides a full array of career services to help students find jobs outside UPS after they complete the program, including career assessments, mock interviews and help with resumes.

“The value of this program is immeasurable,” Poling said. "Students are gaining workforce experience while acquiring a host of job skills, such as the ability to work in a team and communications skills, which they can transfer to any job in the future.”

The program provides many students who might not consider higher education with an opportunity to attend college, added JCTC Provost Diane Calhoun-French. And for JCTC, the benefits include increased enrollment and increased student retention.

“It’s important for both sides of a partnership to enter into it willing to learn about the needs of the other entity,”  Calhoun-French said.

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