Innovation in Collaboration

Thoughtware Private - Article Published: Mar 19, 2019
Graduation Caps thrown in the air

Many private colleges and public and two-year schools have the capacity (people and facilities) to offer their traditional education, but also offer professional training in the health care and other professional fields where critical shortages of skilled workers exist.


Media sources reporting on this issue cite acute needs and significant efforts being made to meet those needs. Here is a sample of the headlines in the health care world:

Five-figure signing bonuses, free housing, college tuition for employees and their children
CNN Business, accessed November 21, 2018, at

The U.S. labor shortage is reaching a critical point
Private payrolls grew less than expected in June, likely due not just to a slowdown in hiring but also a decline in the labor pool.
TradeVistas, accessed November 24, 2018, at

High job growth expected for U.S. healthcare – But where will the workers be?
Mercer, accessed November 21, 2018, at

With the significant need for skilled workers, is the college and university community responding to the need? Consider this troubling data: According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), colleges are turning away nursing students in record numbers.

The reason for this appears to be a lack of clinical space where nursing students can gain needed handson clinical experience. Another reason is the lack of qualified instructors according to Robert Rosseter, spokesman for the AACN (as quoted in an April 2018 CNN Business report).


Are nursing and related health care fields the only areas where shortages of workers currently exist? As it turns out, no.


According to a study released by Deloitte in November 2018, in the manufacturing industry, 5 out of 10 open positions are unoccupied. For skilled workers, the skills gap is expected to grow from about 488,000 jobs left open today to as many as 2.4 million manufacturing jobs in 2028. This could leave $454 billion in manufacturing GDP at risk in 2028, or more than $2.5 trillion over the next decade, according to the research.

Manufacturing executives listed their “top five skill sets expected to increase significantly in the coming three years due to the influx of automation and advanced technologies.” These skills sets are:

  • Technology/computer
  • Digital
  • Programming for robots/automation
  • Working with tools and technology
  • Critical thinking

These all seem to be typical skill outcomes of many private and public higher education degree programs.

With the significant need for skilled workers, is the college and university community responding to the need?

Teacher Shortages

Then there are the reports of teacher shortages. One study from The Guardian resulted in 28 out of 41 states reporting teacher shortages. It appears that schools are struggling, especially with filling positions in science, special education and mathematics.

Time to Innovate

With this growing need for skilled workers how can your institution innovate to meet these industry needs?


Many other institutions have looked to creative consortia arrangements with other institutions. Examples include the local community or high schools; however, this doesn’t come without start-up challenges. Discussing this issue with a vice president of finance of a private institution revealed successful collaboration between institutions appears to be based on three key factors:

  1. Relationships and trust
  2. Aligned missions
  3. Giving up some level of control

He said, “Building relationships and trust takes time … when creating a relationship with another institution, start with the ‘easy stuff’ first.” He also suggested setting up bilateral exchanges, such as study abroad programs that enrich the student experience.

International Collaboration

Texas private university St. Edward's University is working with institutions worldwide. One report from the CIC states, “As part of a mission-centered challenge to its students to ‘Take on your world,’ St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, has developed exchange programs with an extensive network of 24 partner universities around the world.”3 We learned these arrangements are designed in a manner that increases institutional relationships and trust with other institutions, which helps stimulate innovative thinking about other ways to partner and become financially sustainable. Once those initial arrangements are working successfully, institutions have a new basis for relationships that build trust and ultimately help to align their missions.

Transferring Programs

In August 2018, five Kendall College programs were transferred to National Louis University (NLU). Per an NLU press release, it created a fourth college known as the Kendall College of Culinary Arts and Hospitality at NLU.4 This type of collaboration did not come without its challenges or happen overnight. In January 2017, NLU announced the transfer agreement, pending regulatory approval. The key leaders and constituents all came together to align missions and found a way to continue both legacies. NLU President Nivine Magahed said “NLU is looking forward to preserving the legacy of Kendall College’s well-known programs and building on its premier reputation, while also offering more degree programs that will provide students with additional career options.”


Property & Casualty Insurance

Another innovative idea is entering into consortia agreements for business insurance, such as combining property and casualty insurance. If you have sister institutions in different areas or regions it’s unlikely a catastrophic event would occur in both places. You could potentially get better pricing using the same contractor and generate savings to be spent elsewhere. This same idea can be used with different suppliers as well.

Health Insurance

If your institution and another institution both have selffunded health plans, would it make sense to share all benefits and create one pool? Once institutions have built relationships with the others’ stakeholders and gained the trust through giving the employees a voice in the matter, these types of agreements and shared control become easier to navigate.

Public-Private Partnership (PPP)

One example of the effective use of PPP resides at Boise State University in Idaho. Boise State was recently named one of the most innovative national universities in the country by U.S. News and World Report. The report said, “The College of Innovation and Design serves as a crucible of education innovation, launching programs, including the recent Passport to Education—a publicprivate partnership in which members of the inaugural partner, CapEd Credit Union, can complete customized college degrees on a subscription that will save them thousands over a traditional program.”5


Sharing Back-of-the-House Processes

Diving a little further into consortia agreements, some institutions have found it mutually beneficial to share “back-of-the-house” processes, such as payroll or accounts payable processing. By having one central function process these administrative tasks institutions can reduce spending and reallocate the savings toward their aligned missions.

Augsburg University, a midsize private university in Minneapolis, has worked diligently in this area for years. In 2016, Augsburg University and Luther Seminary in St. Paul launched a shared services alliance to reduce the cost of common business operations. The alliance began with shared library and IT resources and has expanded to include human resources and other back-office support. This is one example of how two institutions have innovatively developed a strong collaborative relationship of mutual interest and benefit.

Collaborating with High Schools

The creative ideas with other schools and local communities are endless once you have the mindset of working with others rather than trying to go it alone. Some institutions are collaborating with local high schools and community colleges. For example, Texas Lutheran University in Seguin received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant in 2017 to build bridges to the local high school, its increasing population of Hispanic students and their families.6 Another private college partnered with a local high school and created a swimming program. The college didn’t have a pool or the resources to build an aquatic center; however, the high school already had a great facility. This created additional revenues for both institutions without incurring additional capital expenditures.


A VP of finance at a private Texas institution said the most important thing to remember is to institutionalize these agreements for longlasting partnerships. As said before, most partnerships are built on relationships and trust. If a key leader, such as a president of an institution, leaves without a consortia having been institutionalized, the entire partnership could be at risk—as quickly as it was created in some cases. Other key takeaways include:

  1. Get the right people around the table to not only create ideas but put those ideas into action.
  2. You have to give up some control to gain something in return.
  3. Institutionalize these ideas. Ensure they align with your mission.
  4. Create pressure for change without causing panic.

Read more about how colleges and universities are innovating through collaboration by downloading our 2019 Higher Education Outlook.

4 NLU press release

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