How Universities and Employers Collaborate to Improve Student Outcomes

While ideas about higher education’s purpose continue to evolve, those of a large proportion of current students and employers are in alignment. While the students want universities to provide career-focused programs that prepare them for their futures, the employers want universities to provide modern, relevant programs that prepare students to become qualified employees in their companies. 

The need for collaboration in higher education — particularly between universities and employers — continues to grow. Carefully managed partnerships benefit everyone involved, and they can help shape the future of countless industries in a rapidly changing world.

Why Should Universities and Employers Form Partnerships?

Universities and employers alike have much to gain from forming partnerships. Many universities face a significant enrollment gap, which can lead to lost revenue over time, while many employers face a serious talent gap, which can impact their bottom lines. Partnerships can help alleviate both of these gaps.

Benefits for Universities

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that university enrollments in both undergraduate and graduate programs were down for the third straight year in 2023. The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in significant losses for higher ed institutions, and, while enrollment has recovered some ground, it has not reached pre-pandemic levels. 

The decline in tuition revenue has led to cost-cutting measures across hundreds of colleges and universities, which may further impact their enrollments. Some experts believe that enrollment rates will continue to fall in the future due to factors such as demographic shifts, high degree program costs, and student loan apprehension, as well as the growing popularity of alternative credentialing and a reinvigorated interest in the trades. 

Employer collaborations in higher education can benefit universities in several ways. Schools can curate their programs to prepare students for careers with specific employers, which can drive future enrollments in the programs. These programs can lower marketing costs, enhance student retention and completion rates, provide greater return on investment for students, and boost after-graduation employment rates. Employer collaborations can also help universities modernize their programs to become more competitive and build a reputation for excellence.

Benefits for Employers               

Employers know their staff members are the key to their success, but finding and retaining qualified employees is difficult. Global talent shortages have reached an all-time high, with about 77% of companies with more than 250 employees reporting skill shortages in 2023, according to Manpower Group. By 2030, these shortages could cost organizations $8.5 trillion in lost annual revenue, according to a survey conducted by Korn Ferry.

Employer collaborations in higher education are an excellent option for dealing with these shortages. Partnering with universities that train students for specific roles in specific fields gives employers access to well-trained and qualified employees who are more likely to remain with their companies. By curating high-quality staff members, employers can reduce training costs, increase employee loyalty, and boost overall productivity. 

What Goes Into a Successful Partnership?

Discovery and market research can establish the foundation of a partnership between a university and an employer. These processes uncover the core values and needs of all parties to determine the type and scope of collaboration that will best serve both the company’s existing and future employees and the university’s existing and future students. 

Market Demand and Collaboration               

Successful collaborations between universities and employers start with understanding the market. Discovering which industries and niches are growing the fastest, which programs students prefer, and which certificates and degrees are best suited for which types of employers are all important when creating partnerships that will benefit all parties. The best collaborations are those that are led by the job market at every level, from local to global employers. 

Types of Partnerships               

Some of the most prevalent and successful types of collaborations in higher education are internships and apprenticeships, tuition reimbursement for existing employees, work-study agreements, and sponsored capstone projects. 

  • Internships and Apprenticeships: Internships and apprenticeships give employers the opportunity to train their future employees while they are still earning their degrees. Students benefit by being able to learn more about their future employers through hands-on experience. 
  • Tuition Reimbursement: Employers operating in rapidly evolving industries may find that tuition reimbursement programs are ideal for encouraging their existing employees to pursue a certificate or degree that can enhance their current skills. 
  • Work-Study Agreements: When a student agrees to work for a company long term, the company can pay for some or all of the student’s tuition. This is one of the most beneficial types of collaborations for students. 
  • Sponsored Capstone Projects: Some employers have discovered the benefits of sponsoring a capstone project or research lab. The company can provide a list of research topics and projects that are relevant to its business scope along with the necessary equipment for the university students to use to conduct that research. The firm benefits from gaining access to the research and building relationships with potential future employees, while the students gain hands-on experience in the field and learn about relevant industry trends.

What Types of Credentials Should These Partnerships Focus On? 

If universities want to appeal to employers and improve their enrollment rates, they must first determine what employers are looking for in current and future employees and what programs students prefer. 

Nondegree credential opportunities such as bootcamps, certificate programs, and short programs are increasingly popular among students as they seek a faster path to upskilling and employment. For example, undergraduate certificate enrollments were up 5.5% and graduate certificate enrollments increased 4.6% in spring 2023, despite the overall decline in degree program enrollments, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. These nondegree programs provide students with valuable skills, and they are especially favorable in industries like technology and medicine, which require significant continuing education. 

Many employers are increasingly viewing nondegree credentials in a positive light. In a recent survey by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), the majority of employers, 74%, said that nondegree and alternative programs have helped fill their employees’ skills gaps, though many employers still require a degree for certain positions. A majority of organizations, 68%, expressed an interest in being approached by a university about developing an alternative credential program. 

How Should Universities Pursue Employer Partnerships? 

Understanding the benefits of collaboration in higher education is only the first step. To realize these benefits, both universities and employers must actively pursue partnerships. 

  • Contact local businesses, including nonprofits. Universities can break the ice by reaching out to local businesses that operate in the industries that align with programs they offer. Companies in rapidly evolving industries requiring specialized talent tend to be the most receptive. Universities can benefit from seeking out employers that share similar values and are enthusiastic about partnership opportunities.
  • Explore various resources. Universities should also make use of the resources that are available to them. For example, the University Industry Demonstration Partnership (UIDP) is an organization focused solely on issues that impact collaborations in higher education. 
  • Work with an enrollment management partner. Enrollment management partners can provide a valuable service to universities in their quest to collaborate with employers. Archer Education works with dozens of higher ed organizations and universities to help them overcome their enrollment marketing and student engagement challenges in myriad ways — including through employer partnerships. 
  • Prepare and coordinate campus resources. The quality of university-employer partnerships depends on the strength of their infrastructure. Universities should consider designating specific departments to help build and maintain employer relationships. Not only does this make the process run more smoothly, it also helps employers more easily navigate higher education’s administrative complexities. When partnerships are managed efficiently and authentically, students can see and benefit from the genuine relationship between the university and the employer.
  • Nurture new business relationships. Universities have designed complex processes to recruit and retain students, and many of those same principles can be applied to recruiting and retaining employer partners. Conducting cold outreach efforts, full-fledged marketing campaigns, incentive programs, and follow-up email campaigns can help universities find and build successful partnerships. Tools like Archer’s Onward engagement platform can be especially helpful for universities in maintaining consistent outreach to corporate partners.

Enjoy Meaningful and Beneficial Collaborations in Higher Education With Archer Education

Archer Education partners with numerous universities and higher learning institutions to accelerate online learning and growth. We believe employer collaborations in higher education benefit all parties — universities, employers, and students. In some cases, these partnerships can be the first step toward a brighter global future, as they help drive new research forward, staff companies with high-quality talent, and keep universities profitable through sustainable revenue. 

Contact us for more information on how Archer can help you meet your enrollment goals.


Forbes, “Six Reasons Why Business-University Collaboration Is a Win for Leaders”

Korn Ferry, “The $8.5 Trillion Talent Shortage” 

ManpowerGroup, The Talent Shortage

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Stay Informed With the Latest Enrollment Information, Spring 2023 

University Industry Demonstration Partnership, About Us 

University Professional and Continuing Education Association, “The Effect of Employer Understanding and Engagement on Non-Degree Credentials”