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In Good Company

Through relationships with more than 50 corporate partners, Saint Leo University continues to expand its academic programs for adult learners.

By Apryl Motley

"Going where the students are," that's how Eric Weekes, vice president of business affairs at Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, Fla., sums up the university's thriving corporate partners program.

With more than 40 education centers in seven states, this higher education institution is well ahead of a trend that's been somewhat disruptive for the industry in general. Institutions are allocating additional resources so that their academic programs are more accessible for adult learners by essentially making them portable. Establishing corporate partnerships has proved key to Saint Leo's success in this area. (Read more about college and university responses to disruptive change in "Negotiating the Rapids," in the November 2014 Business Officer.)

"We are used to partnering," says Beth Carter, associate vice president of Saint Leo's division of continuing education. "It's part of our business model and will continue to be."

Adding Another On-Site Center

In April 2013, the university entered into an agreement with SYKES Enterprises, a provider of outsourced call center services, to open a university education center with classroom and advising space at the company's contact center in Lakeland, Fla. Under this arrangement, college degree programs are available on-site to the company's workforce, as well as to local Lakeland residents who want to pursue associate or bachelor's degrees. Students enrolled at the center have application fees waived and may qualify for discounted tuition. Saint Leo launched the first courses in May 2014.

"As a leader in adult education, we're pleased to share their space to provide programs to their employees and the community," Carter says.

"The principals at SYKES have said that one of their key objectives was to increase the staff's capability to manage their business and improve their skills, which makes this partnership a win for them and a natural collaboration for us," Weekes explains.

 According to Carter, more than 70 students have applied to attend classes at the center, and 45 are SYKES employees. These initial enrollment numbers are in line with the goals put forth in the education center's business plan. She acknowledges that the availability of classrooms will be a factor in determining how many courses can be offered. Fortunately, SYKES employees can also take classes at any of the university's other education centers or online.

Fine Tune, Using Analytics

As the on-site program matures, leaders will monitor enrollment and retention as well as determining which programs to continue or replace. Both Carter and Weekes indicate that over time the university expects to tweak the offerings, based on feedback about what adjustments might be made to help employees add to their ability to deliver for SYKES.

They felt that any changes that may be needed would be manageable within the framework of the program and breadth of the courses available. This falls in line with Saint Leo's commitment to provide these students with good enrollment guidance and ongoing advising.

 As far as the financial implications of these kinds of partnerships for the university, Weekes says, "When the business plan is put together, we're going to enter into an agreement that makes sense for us in terms of return on investment."

 "Partnerships like the one we've established with SYKES and our other corporate partners enable the university to make a reasonable return on our investment," he continues, so "we can offer this service to other workplace locations and continue to add to the student body."

Carter says there's always the potential for adding more partners, if they are the right fit for the university. Consequently, there are no plans to put a cap on the program. In addition to SYKES, Saint Leo has similar workplace partnerships with Huntington Ingalls' Newport News Shipbuilding (Newport News, Va.) and Tech Data Corp (Clearwater, Fla.). When others join their ranks, they will certainly be in good company.

APRYL MOTLEY, Columbia, Md., covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.


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