Corporate Partnerships and the Digital Revolution: How Continuing Education Must Continue to Evolve

Corporate partnerships are one of the driving forces behind continuing education. They help prepare students for workforce expectations and guide instructors in developing curriculum in line with current employer needs. Since the internet came into the higher ed picture, multiple generations have used the web to advance their education and have had their learning experiences shaped by tech. 

Gary Matkin, Dean of the Division of Continuing Education and Vice Provost of the Division of Career Pathways at the University of California Irvine, joined Illumination podcast host Amrit Ahluwalia live at the 2022 UPCEA Annual Conference to discuss the internet’s use in higher ed and how corporate partners are benefiting most from continuing education.

Coming from the corporate world, Matkin was used to the focus being on quarterly profits and bonuses. He says he made the switch to education because he wanted to focus on something other than shareholder value. In the 22 years since he made the jump, Matkin has seen what he considers to be the second great revolution in higher education.

“The first revolution was the invention of the printing press and not much changed in higher education since then until the internet came along,” Matkin said. “And now the Internet is so infused in everything we do in higher education. It's almost hard to see the big changes that have occurred.” 

For Matkin, this wave of the web took off in 1994, and has steadily been picking up speed ever since. He says that the current iteration of the revolution is focused primarily around digital credentialling.  

There are two groups of thought regarding digital credentials. The first is that digital credentials involve the same sorts of skills one would learn in a standard classroom, while the second group suggests that digital credentials are foundationally transformative in terms of how content is delivered.  

“Really focusing on competencies and workplace relevance—those two things are a new vista for higher education, and we have to get into these areas,” Matkin said. “Any university that doesn't understand that is going to be left behind." 

This digital revolution has led to increase access; many more learners are earning credentials than would otherwise.  

UC Irvine has awarded nearly 200 digital badges to matriculated students. The most common badges cover engineering and the arts, with microcredentials available for skills like Adobe Photoshop and textile design.  

“Those are the kinds of things that are not only good for the students because they can put it on their resume, but it actually improves pedagogy,” Matkin said. “We’ve found students who are getting a badge are more engaged because they’re looking at something that is really relevant to them.” 

Along the same train of thought, the faculty who teach these badging programs are being pushed toward more relevant curriculum.   

New students are also bringing in new revenue for UC Irvine, but that’s not the only benefit. Having new students partner with their employers for upskilling and reskilling is a great incentive for workers to enroll in CE programs.  

“We use what I call the Robin Hood principle,” Matkin said. “We take those that can pay for a full tuition and subsidize to a certain extent. As an example, we charge teachers for professional education, but many of those teachers are getting their tuition paid for by their districts or through contacts.” 

Examples like that also extend into the business world, where companies pay for employees.  

Even the name, the Robin Hood principle, is apt. Of course, the folklore legend is known for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, and while this example isn’t quite as extreme as that, there is still a similar value of community investment. 

“The school is a huge boost to regional economics,” Matkin said. “Because we’re training the workforce that is needed in the community, and we have to know the community’s needs in order to do that.”  

Many jobs are currently left unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers. Approximately 54% of companies globally reported shortages last year, and that is where continuing ed can come into the picture. The right partnerships with the right businesses go a long way and can develop pathways and competency-based learning—which can, in turn, lead to jobs for students down the line. 

But for this to work, there has to be a level of cooperation between employers and institutions. Getting those partnerships in place can be a challenge.  

 “The landscape is so competitive for continuing education, and the university has completely changed,” Matkin said. “This year, there will be about $25 billion put towards education, capitalizing on education initiatives. Almost none of that is going directly to universities.”  

One of the beneficiaries of that investment, according to Matkin, will be corporations. But those are companies that need the tools, infrastructure, and expertise that only a top tier college or university can provide.  

They may not need them in a decade’s time, Matkin said. But they need it now.  

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Last updated: April 15, 2022


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