Four Ways Employer Relationships Strengthen Graduate Programs
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Four Ways Employer Relationships Strengthen Graduate Programs

Strong relationships between graduate schools and employers are beneficial to the institution across a number of areas.


As recent surveys and articles in the Wall Street Journal and the Chronicle of Higher Education have documented, there seems to be a deep disconnect between the skills employers need to see from their employees and what colleges believe they are (and should be) teaching.[1], [2], [3]

Comments in the Chronicle reveal excitement and frustration from both sides as we try to bridge this divide. This is the challenge we aimed to tackle when we launched our first Master of Professional Studies program in 2007, and one that directly informed our decision to create a downtown campus that connects us more than ever to a diverse industry base.[4]

In developing new degree programs and evaluating existing ones in our school, we look first at market projections to make sure we create programs for professions that will continue to grow and that have a clear demand and desire for employees with graduate-level expertise. All of our graduate programs begin with a required ethics course specific to their discipline (i.e. the real estate program looks at the savings and loan crisis; journalism holds its students to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics) and conclude with a capstone course that pairs them with industry experts to solve a real-world problem.

Industry connections remain relevant throughout the development, launch and assessment of our programs in a variety of ways:

1. Advisory Boards

Prior to launching our emergency and disaster management program, we recruited experts from the American Red Cross, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy and police and fire departments to review our proposed curriculum and offer recommendations. Several of them had graduate-level teaching and research experience, but others did not. Together we were able to create a stronger academic program that also reflects the most current needs of a quickly-evolving field. Similar boards have conducted program assessments for our public relations and corporate communications, journalism and sports industry management programs that have helped us to keep courses and curricula innovative and up-to-date.

2. Faculty Expertise

One of the key values provided by our school lies in the quality of our adjunct instructors, the vast majority of whom we have recruited due to their industry experience. They are provided guidance and training through academic departments and the academic affairs office before teaching for us, and they, in turn, get to explore their own fields more deeply and thoughtfully. As we explain at each new student orientation, our students are also interviewing every semester with active professionals who can help build their networks and help them better focus their career path.

3. Internships, Externships and Real World Experience

By incorporating internships and externships into each program’s curriculum, we have built a strong network of professional resources for our students but, just as importantly, for each industry as they inform the kinds of skills our students — their potential future employees — need to be successful.

Through its mission-driven “cause consulting” courses, our public relations and corporate communications program links students directly to nonprofits such as the American Red Cross, Amnesty International, Metro TeenAIDS and the Washington Humane Society in need of strategic communication plans that they otherwise would not be able to afford. At the capstone level, they connect students to industry leaders including Ogilvy, Fleischman-Hillard and Eatmon Corporation and bring in outside employers to help evaluate their final projects.

Similarly, our sports industry management program has established an international reputation for the internships and externships it provides students with local professional teams (such as, the Nationals, the Capitols or the Mystics) but, just as importantly, with organizations such as Octagon, the NFL and Under Armour. In all cases, students are putting their prior coursework to use — and testing it — in a real-world professional environment.

4. Research Support

From its inception, our human resources program has involved Chief Diversity Officers from corporations including Nike, Marriott, Well Fargo, Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America and Xerox in its overall research strategy. They provide insights into emerging trends in the field, and they provide financial resources for the program to explore specific issues related to diversity on a global scale.

Likewise, our Center for Social Impact Communication has been awarded grants by Ogilvy and, recently, the Eugene & Agnes E. Meyer Foundation to lead a multi-phase initiative on storytelling in the nonprofit sector, while our just-launched urban and regional planning program has already partnered with area industries to explore grant and research opportunities related to city planning.

The applied nature for these kinds of research projects is conducted jointly by our own faculty and students, helping us to build on Georgetown’s established reputation as a leading research university while completing surveys and studies that directly impact the industries with which we work.

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References

[1] Julian Alssid, “A New Gallup Survey Says Colleges and Employers Disagree About How Workforce-Ready Graduates Are — Who’s Right?” Huffington Post, February 22, 2014. Accessed at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julian-l-alssid/a-new-gallup-survey-says-_b_4862669.html

[2] “Why Aren’t Companies Getting Graduates With the Skills They Need?” The Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2013. Accessed at http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304561004579135253438812772

[3] Karin Fischer, “A College Degree Sorts Job Applicants, but Employers Wish It Meant More,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 4, 2013. Accessed at http://chronicle.com/article/The-Employment-Mismatch/137625/#id=overview

[4] “Neighborhood Life,” Georgetown School of Continuing Studies, May 25, 2014. Accessed at http://scs.georgetown.edu/about-scs/campus-life/neighborhood-life

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2 Responses to Four Ways Employer Relationships Strengthen Graduate Programs

  1. Francis Beyer Reply

    2014/06/18 at 10:33 am

    It amazes me that there are still graduate schools out there that don’t have any strategic partnerships with industry leaders. I think one of the biggest draws for graduate education is its ability to connect students to a wide network of potential employers, and this can be more easily accomplished with strong external partnerships.

  2. Skeptical Reply

    2014/06/20 at 5:48 pm

    I’m not so sure about the last point, “research support.” Call me old fashioned, but the idea of corporations funding research that may or may not yield their desired results raises a few ethics issues. To have the kind of research partnership Rankin seems to be describing, there would have to be more thinking around its structure and safeguards.

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