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What Should You Look for in a Strategic University Partnership?

Oct 20, 2023 | Do You Know, Blog | 0 comments

With the skills gap widening, companies need innovative ways to attract top talent. University partnerships are an increasingly popular and effective strategy. By collaborating directly with colleges and universities, employers gain access to talented students and graduates. They can build their brand on campus, influence curriculum, provide internships and projects, and form early relationships with emerging talent.

Ultimately, university partnerships allow employers to connect with and recruit motivated, skilled individuals before they even enter the job market. This cultivates talent tailored to your needs while also filling hiring pipelines. In today’s competitive landscape, forward-thinking companies are realizing universities hold the key to securing top talent. Forming university partnerships should be a priority for attracting the next generation of rising stars.

Why Partner with Universities?

Now that We’ve outlined why university partnerships are worthwhile, let’s explore all the benefits they offer for talent recruitment and development. We’ll provide a nice list covering the main perks – there are so many! 

  • Access to talented students and recent graduates: Universities grant direct access to an elite talent pool of students and recent graduates across a variety of fields and specializations. Employers can connect early and build relationships.
  • Establish your brand on campus: Sponsor events, host info sessions, speak on panels and find other ways to build brand awareness on campus. This raises your profile among students.
  • Customized curriculum and training: Collaborate with professors to incorporate real-world projects and cases into coursework. You can develop a curriculum tailored to the precise skills and knowledge needed for your industry. This produces graduates better prepared for their roles.
  • Research collaborations: Fund academic research projects and collaborate with professors and graduate students. This provides a window into cutting-edge developments in your field while also identifying emerging talent.
  • Diversity of thought and experiences: Campus diversity fosters varied perspectives, insights, and ideas. Partnerships allow you to ingrain diversity, equity and inclusion into your talent pipeline early on.
  • Early identification of top talent: Interact with students through hackathons, competitions, mentorship programs, and other activities. You can spot rising stars early in their academic careers.
  • Internship and co-op programs: Offer short-term internships and longer co-op opportunities. Students gain real-world experience and you evaluate talent firsthand. Many interns convert to full-time hires.
  • Capstone projects: Sponsor end-of-program projects that solve real business challenges you are facing. You gain innovative solutions while assessing student skills.
  • Hiring pipelines: Build reliable pipelines by cultivating long-term, integrated partnerships across campus departments and initiatives. Make your company top-of-mind for students.

Types of Partnerships

Universities offer tons of different ways to collaborate – where do you even start?! Not to worry, We’ll walk through the main types of university partnerships so you can find the best options for your needs.

  • Career fairs and campus recruiting: Participate in university career fairs and on-campus recruiting events. Meet students face-to-face and promote your employer brand. Conduct interviews for internships or full-time jobs.
  • Sponsorships and donations: Sponsor academic clubs, competitions, athletics programs, scholarships or facilities. Donate to causes that support students. This demonstrates your commitment to the university.
  • Internship programs: Offer project-based or rotational internship programs. Provide meaningful work experience and mentoring. Internships are a pipeline for convertible job offers.
  • Co-op programs: Co-ops are longer work terms integrated into academic calendars. Students work full-time at your company while earning course credit. This provides an extended evaluation period.
  • Capstone projects: Sponsor end-of-program projects solving real business problems. Mentor students and gain access to their innovative solutions.
  • Case studies: Provide relevant problems from your company as material for case studies. Professors can teach using real-world examples, preparing students for similar scenarios.
  • University advisory boards: Join advisory boards at your target schools. This offers input into curriculum and programs while raising your profile among faculty and administrators.
  • Curriculum co-development: Work directly with academics to shape curriculum and learning outcomes tailored to your industry needs. This ensures graduates have the precise skills they seek.
  • Facilities sharing: Provide access to specialized equipment or lab space on your premises for capstone projects or research. This gives students hands-on experience with your technology and systems.

University partnerships come in many varieties, from targeted initiatives like capstones to comprehensive relationships like advisory board roles. Select the formats that best fit your goals and resources.

Best Practices

Creating successful partnerships takes work – you can’t just show up to a career fair and expect results! We’re going to share key tips for doing university partnerships RIGHT. Follow this advice to maximize your talent outcomes:

  • Start with clear, mutual objectives: Align on shared goals for the partnership from the outset. Ensure it will benefit both organizations in concrete ways. Outline metrics for tracking progress.
  • Get buy-in from leadership: Secure support from executives, decision-makers and influencers across both organizations. Top-down support facilitates cooperation at all levels.
  • Be flexible and adapt: Adjust to the slower pace of academia. Compromise when needed to overcome any cultural differences between your company and the university.
  • Develop multi-channel presence: Pursue high-visibility branding opportunities on campus through events, signage, social media, athletics sponsorship and more. Adopt a broad promotion strategy.
  • Offer real-world experiences: Structure programs, projects and collaborations to provide students with practical, hands-on experiences. Apply classroom knowledge to solve concrete problems.
  • Focus on diversity: Emphasize diversity, equity and inclusion in all partnership programs and activities. Ensure equal access to opportunities. Track participation based on gender, ethnicity and other factors.
  • Provide mentoring and support: Assign company mentors to students and provide coaching. Offer workshops on professional skills development. Create a supportive environment for growth.
  • Measure outcomes diligently: Establish metrics for the partnership such as program participation rates, intern conversion rates, brand awareness on campus, and hiring benchmarks. Analyze results and refine the approach.
  • Communicate and collaborate: Maintain open lines of communication at all levels of both organizations. Seek regular input through surveys and discussions.

Strategic, thoughtful university partnerships require work but yield invaluable talent acquisition opportunities. Follow these tips to maximize your partnerships.

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Benefits for Students and Employers

Of course, the real question is – what’s in it for each partner? We’ll break down the main advantages for both students AND employers. When done right, these are win-win arrangements!

For students:

  • Gain professional work experience before graduating
  • Receive mentoring and coaching from company representatives
  • Develop technical skills and business acumen
  • Apply classroom knowledge to real-world projects
  • Build professional networks and relationships
  • Receive feedback on strengths and areas for improvement
  • Increase marketability to future employers
  • Earn wages or academic credit through co-ops and internships
  • Exposure to company and industry culture
  • Higher likelihood of receiving full-time job offers

For employers:

  • Early identification and evaluation of rising talent
  • Customized curriculum and experiential learning to develop required skillsets
  • Direct access to qualified candidates on campus
  • Diversity of perspectives and experiences in the talent pipeline
  • Cost-effective recruitment compared to other channels
  • Enhanced brand visibility and reputation on campus
  • Input into innovation and R&D through university research
  • Solutions to current business problems through student projects
  • Reduced training time and ramp-up for new graduate hires
  • Increased recruitment yield with improved candidate conversion

University partnerships are mutually beneficial arrangements that better prepare students for fulfilling careers while helping employers connect with top talent before competitors. The outcomes are well worth the investments for both partners.

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Closing Thoughts

The widening skills gap means companies must find innovative ways to secure top talent. As discussed, university partnerships provide unparalleled access to skilled, diverse students and recent graduates.

Companies should prioritize developing customized partnerships that align with their talent needs. Whether sponsoring capstones, participating in campus recruiting, shaping curriculum, or sitting on advisory boards, employers have no shortage of options for strategic collaboration. Done right, these university partnerships become talent pipelines that deliver qualified candidates with relevant skills and experiences.

With the competition for talent intensifying each year (see this How companies are reskilling to address talent gaps from McKinsey), forward-looking organizations cannot afford to ignore this recruiting channel. The time is now to start fostering win-win partnerships with local colleges and universities. Plan your approach and begin building the talent pipeline of the future.


What are some good first steps for approaching a university about a partnership?

Start by identifying the main contacts at the school you want to partner with, such as people in career services, co-op/internship offices, alumni relations, or academic departments related to your industry. Reach out to share your interest in collaborating and try to schedule an exploratory meeting to discuss partnership opportunities. Come prepared with ideas and be willing to adapt to their needs.

How can we evaluate the ROI of a university partnership?

Track metrics like number of campus event attendees, internship applicants, student project participants, job fair hires, brand awareness surveys, and recruiting costs compared to other channels. Measure outcomes like intern conversion rates, quality of hire, new grad retention rates, and diversity stats.

What is the typical length of a university partnership agreement?

There is no set duration. Partnerships could last a single academic year or many years. Have periodic check-ins to assess the collaboration and renew agreements as needed. Be prepared to evolve the partnership over time as well.

What happens if a partnership isn’t achieving our desired results?

Analyze what aspects are underperforming and discuss changes with your university contact. Be open to piloting new engagement strategies. Reprioritize resources as necessary. If challenges persist, consider refocusing your partnership to more fruitful areas.

How can we make a university partnership affordable for a small business?

Start small by sponsoring a case competition, hosting an info session, or attending the career fair. Offer micro-internships or short capstone projects. Provide mentoring through video chats. Partner with the university’s small business center if they have one. There are many low-cost options.

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