5 things colleges do better than most companies

We often consider what colleges can learn from businesses.

But David Thomas, the incoming president of Morehouse College, former dean of Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, and professor at Harvard Business School, argues that corporations have much to learn from colleges as well.

In an interview with Abigail Hess for CNBC, Thomas identifies five lessons businesses could learn from higher education.

1: What millennials want

It's no secret that businesses have had a tough time retaining millennial employees. But colleges have already been working with millennials (as students) for years. Thomas says higher ed has learned that there are three things millennials want most: a sense of purpose, the freedom to define their own identity, and motivational role models.

2: The hidden benefits of going green

Colleges know that sustainability efforts not only reduce costs, but also engage and motivate young adults, Thomas says. Hess notes that some companies are catching on to this. When discussing Apple's commitment to sustainability, CEO Tim Cook said one of the benefits is that green policies "inspire our team."

Improving sustainability efforts with a green revolving fund

3: How to use new tech to support learning

Colleges are constantly experimenting with new ways of reaching and teaching students, Thomas points out. Companies could borrow many of these ideas and apply them to employee training. Hess adds that some companies are already moving in this direction by, for example, using Khan Academy and EdX to help employees keep their skills up to date.

4: Why team building matters

Colleges and universities have found that building affinity groups around common interest can help them improve alumni engagement and increase fundraising, Thomas points out. When companies borrow this strategy, they often see higher employee engagement and retention, he says. Hess reports that one surprising teambuilding initiative has taken off among tech companies: a capella singing groups.

How to transform millennials into monthly donors

5: How to build effective workspaces

Colleges are getting very savvy about designing campus buildings that support student learning and interaction. Innovative companies have started to recognize the value of a well-designed work environment—and now model their corporate offices after college campuses (Hess, CNBC, 11/24)

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