Why—and how—two COE units embraced external partnerships

By Peter Cellier

New program launches alone are not a sustainable long-term growth solution

COE units have traditionally prioritized new program development and launch to increase enrollments and revenue. However, the reliance on new content offerings poses several challenges to meeting long-term growth targets:

  • New programs are increasingly resource-intensive to develop, but bring no guarantee of sufficient enrollment gains.
  • Fields and disciplines that were once distinct are becoming increasingly commoditized, making it more difficult to identify new and untapped opportunities with market demand analysis.
  • Proliferation of new content undermines efforts to focus the COE portfolio, as COE leaders try to serve all student markets with new program offerings instead of expanding enrollments in signature offerings that emphasize institutional strengths.

Attempts to achieve growth through partnerships with external educational providers and institutions, though, are relatively rare. COE unit leaders are often hesitant to reach out to potential competitors, fearing internal pushback from faculty members skeptical of the academic quality alternative providers offer, and struggle to find other organizations with the capacity and enthusiasm required for a partnership.

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However, opportunities for successful external partnerships still exist. Below, we’ve highlighted two COE units that developed mutually beneficial external partnerships, allowing them to reach previously inaccessible student markets and audiences.

Alternative provider partnership opens new geographic market

Like many COE units, Fort Hays State University’s Virtual College faced a challenge attracting students from beyond its local geographic market. Located in rural Kansas, Fort Hays specifically sought to enroll more students from the Kansas City market, located hundreds of miles away and already served by more than a dozen closer institutions. To achieve this goal, Virtual College leadership investigated alternative marketing and recruitment opportunities through external partnerships.

Virtual College leaders identified a potential partner in Centriq, a high-profile alternative IT education provider in Kansas City. Centriq, which has worked with over 500 Kansas City employers and thousands of self-paying students, still faced skepticism about the career value of a non-credit, alternative credential. While Fort Hays sought a stronger foothold in the Kansas City region, Centriq aimed to convince skeptical students, who often lacked a formal degree, of the value of its non-credit programming.

Proprietary Partnership Bridges Gaps in Mission and Location

Proprietary partnership bridges gaps in mission, location

In response, the two educational providers developed a proprietary articulation agreement in which Centriq alumni receive course credit at Fort Hays State: up to two courses worth of credits in a six-course certificate, and up to eight in an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

To mitigate faculty reticence, three Virtual College IT faculty members and the IT department chair determine which Centriq certifications and courses articulate to Fort Hays programs. Centriq is responsible for advertising the articulation partnership to its students, which reduces the Virtual College’s marketing costs, and Fort Hays alumni also receive discounted access to Centriq courses.

Extra-institutional master’s pathways resolve degree conferral restrictions

Another COE unit has a robust suite of post-baccalaureate professional programs, but its inability to grant master’s degrees limits its recruiting efforts. In order to expand to new markets, this unit established articulation agreements with international institutions to create stackable degree pathways. By partnering with five English-speaking universities in Europe and Australia, this unit has attracted additional domestic and international enrollments and circumvented an internal limitation on degree conferral.

The unit offers a suite of nine-month post-baccalaureate “diplomas:” certificates designed for young, college-educated adults seeking to start or enhance careers in sports management, business management, or tourism and hospitality management. All diploma students spend the first three months of the program in a series of foundational management courses, followed three months of courses in their elected specialization, and conclude with a three-month internship and supporting course that teaches workplace skills.

After students receive the diploma, they may transfer all of their credits to one of five English-speaking universities in Europe and Australia, where they can receive a master’s degree in as little as six to eight months. While building course content that articulated internationally presented an initial challenge, foundational content shared across all programs—the management courses and the internship—ultimately minimized the cost of expansion.

International Partners Solve COE Challenge around Degree Authority

International partners solve COE challenge around degree authority

Because many of the students in the master’s pathway are not interested in traditional graduate programs offered at the main campus, the program avoids cannibalizing enrollments from the main campus.

International students attracted by the opportunity to live and work in the United States also enroll in the program in significant numbers. In fact, after international students complete the diploma, they become eligible for a one-year paid work visa in the United States.

Program Offers Unique Appeal to Domestic and International Students

Program offers unique appeal to domestic and international students

At present, the diplomas enroll over 400 students, and unit leadership expects to generate $2 million in revenue from domestic students and close to $8 million from international enrollments in the next few years.

Alternative provider partnerships merit further study

These examples represent only a small part of a growing trend of unlikely partnerships between academic institutions and would-be competitors. For additional examples and other external opportunities for growth, join us for the second part of our webconference series "Redefining Competitive Advantage." Part two focuses on new partnerships to reach untapped student markets and expand your geographic reach. Register now

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Redefining Competitive Advantage: Part II

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