Community college partnerships with the private sector have grown in significance in the past 15 years due to state budget shortfalls, evolving labor requirements, the need to provide a cutting-edge curriculum, and a desire to respond to local educational needs. This article discusses the essential elements for creating and maintaining mutually beneficial partnerships, and it describes several successful types and models of community college partnerships with local businesses and industry. The article concludes with a discussion of the benefits and challenges associated with community college partnerships with the private sector.
For many years community colleges have maintained close ties to local schools, governments, and community agencies. Recently, however, these colleges have expanded their local relationships to include partners in business and industry (Orr, 2001). These partnerships with the private sector have become increasingly popular over the past 15 years. In 1990, less than half of the nation's community colleges offered training programs in conjunction with local businesses. By the mid-1990s, roughly 90% of two-year colleges had joined "the business of training workers for specific companies, rather than just teaching generic subjects or trades" (Stamps, 1995, p. 36).
Several factors have contributed to the recent popularity of two-year college partnerships with the private sector. The recent economic recession is one; as a consequence of the nation's economic slowdown, many states face severe budget shortfalls and, as a way to bring expenditures in line with revenues, have reduced state appropriations for institutions of higher education (Hebel, Schmidt, & Selingo, 2002). As a result, community colleges have had to look elsewhere for financial support, and private sector partnerships have emerged as an increasingly important source of postsecondary funding (Jackson & Glass, 2000). In addition, evolving labor requirements, particularly in high tech and rural areas, have influenced the creation of community college relationships with local business and industry. Through partnerships with small and mid-sized businesses, community colleges have been extremely successful in helping high tech and rural economies grow and become more competitive (Information Technology Association of America, 2002; Regional Technology Strategies, Inc., 2001a).
Partnerships with the private sector are also influenced by the intense pressure community colleges continually face to provide innovative curriculum to their students, especially in the areas of technology and information systems. According to Daniel (2002), if community colleges are to preserve their role in training the nation's high-tech workforce, they must continue to offer cutting-edge curricula that prepare students to meet the technological demand. Private sector partnerships enable community colleges to create academic and technical training that responds to the high tech labor needs in the community (Swindle, 1999). Finally, the community college's obligation to respond to local demands has also influenced the recent popularity of partnerships with the private sector. As Anderson has stated, "The basic mission of the community college is to meet the local educational needs within the community. In providing teaching, training, personnel, and facilities to meet the needs of local businesses, government agencies, and industry, all participants can benefit" (2001, pp. 7-8).
The recent economic slowdown, evolving labor requirements, the need to provide a state-of-the-art curriculum, and a desire to respond to local demands have greatly helped community college partnerships with the private sector to grow in significance and lead to new streams of revenue for two-year colleges. In addition, they have helped to infuse state-of-the-art technology and modern business practices into contemporary community college facilities and academic programs, and they have assisted two-year colleges in reaching a previously underserved population while providing local businesses with a skilled labor force (Jackson & Glass, 2000). …