University-Corporate Partnerships

A recent, seemingly minor news item has given a glimpse of the more distant future. The story tells how the University of Maryland has received lavish financing from Northrop Grumman Corp to build and support a center for the study of cyber security. Of course, the subject itself has risen in importance during the last few years, but the story’s significance lies less with the center’s particular courses and research than with the corporate-university partnership. These are springing up more and more frequently. IBM has deepened its relationship with Ohio State University. Engineering schools across the country are retooling their programs according to the directions and financing of corporations. As the new book, Thirty Tomorrows, makes clear, such arrangements will become still more common in common years and decades.

Their origins of such arrangements lie in this economy’s need to innovate and upgrade. To compete in today’s globalized environment, especially against low-wage emerging economies, the United States must turn increasingly away from the production of simpler, labor-intensive products and toward the output of more complex, sophisticated, high-value goods and services. To do so, the workforce needs more and more specialized training and education. Especially as aging demographics spreads the existing U.S. workforce ever thinner in coming years, and skilled workers become increasingly scarce, companies will make efforts to ensure a supply of women that can support their innovative efforts. They will extend their internal training, as they already are, and, at higher levels, they will take steps, like those recently reported, to ensure that universities produce the research and the graduates they will need.

Such arrangements are occurring at other levels as well. In North Carolina, for instance, community colleges have joined with companies, large and small, to retool their curriculums to serve corporate needs. Because their efforts offer management a supply of workers with the training they want, the willingness of the community colleges to act in partnership has actually prompted firms to relocate to North Carolina. Nor is it unusual that this state would take the lead in such educational innovation. It, of all states, has suffered from the low-wage competition of emerging economies, in textiles particularly. It has long suffered what the country generally will come to feel increasingly. It has naturally stepped into the vanguard of arrangements that will become increasingly commonplace.

These efforts, at all levels, will serve four purposes. In that sense, they are win, win, win, win arrangement. (1) The companies get a supply of workers they need to serve their ongoing innovation. (2) The universities, community colleges, and other educational institutions will get funding and/or guidance that can make a difference between successful and unsuccessful programs. (3) The students enjoy a course of study with a much greater likelihood of career success than they might otherwise have. (4) Because of this goal-oriented approach, students are more likely to apply themselves diligently than otherwise. The nation will surely see a lot more of this in coming years, because of the likelihood of success and because the competitive and demographic pressures will only become more intense.

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