As community colleges plan for their upcoming academic years and beyond, they are forming new partnerships, tapping existing or new advisory committees, and creating funding models for working with industry and other external partners. The roles that community colleges are forging now can make them the hub for economic growth in their communities. Engaging stakeholders and businesses in the work of the college will help institutions develop relevant academic and training programs and create jobs, internships and mentoring opportunities for students.
INDUSTRY PARTNERSHIPS GROW BUSINESSES & JOB CREATION
Industry partnerships are essential ways for community colleges to thrive. Jim Jacobs, newly named NACCE board member and president of Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan, has navigated many innovative relationships by gauging changes in the local ecosystem. “A good community college tries to always respond to the needs of its own community,” said Jacobs. “We’re just outside Detroit, in the center of the automotive industry and in particular, the research and development arm of the industry.”
Since the Great Recession in 2008, there has been a major resurgence in the Warren area, and Macomb has played an important role. “To play an aggressive role in economic development, we had to create new forms of economic opportunity,” said Jacobs. “It’s just not enough to rely on what we did in the past.” One of the major steps the college took was to consolidate different entrepreneurial initiatives under its Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Among its components is the Innovation Fund, formed in 2015. The fund has three main thrusts: encourage current students to engage in entrepreneurial activities (through funding for students who win pitch competitions); provide a cadre of advisors with small business development backgrounds who advise students about entrepreneurial opportunities in the community; and stimulate job creation through economic support generated by the fund.
“To start the fund, we received $1 million from JP Morgan Chase, which our own board matched, and we are in the process of raising $700-$800,000 more,” Jacobs stated. “The funds are used to help businesses in high tech and advanced automotive manufacturing and provide employment opportunities for students. One of the unique features of the fund is that the companies have to be willing to hire our students.”
In its first year, the fund made two disbursements totaling $275,000 in grants and awards to startups and provided close to 20 jobs and internships for students. In 2016, the college will make more disbursements and create additional employment and internship opportunities.
“The benefits to both parties are mutual and the end result is a healthier local ecosystem,” said Jacobs. “Our entrepreneurial activities are based on the needs in the community and the need for our college to play a role. We are focused and targeted in creating economic growth in the community. To do that, we have to be aggressive and proactive, not just reactive. This is the biggest thing that community colleges hoping to leverage partnerships to the fullest degree have to keep in mind.”