The Importance of Partnerships: Why Business and Higher Ed Need Each Other

It's been 80 years and over 15 million copies sold since Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People but not so much has changed. We can't survive in my business without winning new friends and influencing new people.

Junior and community colleges were created as partnerships between local governments and state governments to help provide affordable access to higher education and it worked well. College has been the doorway to a brighter future for millions of Americans, but that door has been closing. Soon it may be shut to a new generation of students unless we find new partners.

I'm looking at data that shows my college's historical allocation of revenue sources. I'll share a snippet that tells a powerful story.

2014 09 23 MoneyChart thumb

In 1980, student tuition and fees made up 8 percent of our budget. This year it is 53 percent. We didn't suddenly get greedy and decide to price out students. In fact, we may be their last, best hope of getting an affordable education and graduating without massive debt. The state of Texas, which used to provide 80 percent of our funding now provides about 20 percent.

Every day we're trying to see how we can make this college more affordable, but the cost share for students grows every year. Our students now account for the largest part of our operating budget and no one believes that revenues from local taxpayers or the State will dramatically increase.

That leaves our students as the best option for new revenues but it's a terrible option. So how do we stay in business? New sources of revenue need to be found.

The CFO and I meet often to develop new sources of "OPM". I first called it "other people's money" but that sounds cold and not what I intended. It's really "other partners' money." Partnerships are the only way to increase our collective impact in this community.

I first learned the value of working together as a young Peace Corps Volunteer. "Entre todos, no pesa" (a load that's shared isn't heavy) helped us build a school and do other projects in my village. For the past six years, we've taken student volunteers from my college to work in and around that village where they have life changing experiences. We've done reforestation, built a school addition, built indoor toilets, and put a new roof on the health clinic. We did all this and more with "OPM" and partnerships. Local workers and the provincial government supplied materials and labor. The Peace Corps helped, Tyler businesses donated money and labor and our sister institution, UT Tyler, all contributed so together we could do what none of us could have done alone.

Over the last 5 years, Tyler Junior College has formed dozens of partnerships. For example:

  • The CEO of Brookshire's, a local grocery chain, asked us to help train retail workers. That turned into a $12 M nationwide workforce grant.
  • A power company asked us to help train skilled workers to help address the wave of retirees. They have provided millions in equipment as well as scholarships and instructors. This partnership garnered a national workforce award last year.
  • Three communities in our service area provided money, facilities, and startup costs to open TJC centers. Tyler is a medical hub for the region and plans to become a medical training destination as well. More than $12M in donations and a $25M bond election helped us build a new nursing and health sciences center.
  • The City of Tyler, Tyler Economic Development Council and Smith County partnered together to help us build a new Energy Center for energy related career training.
  • A local manufacturer gave us $130,000 worth of new equipment as trainers for one of the energy center classrooms, hoping the corporate headquarter will donate another million.
  • The University of Texas Health Northeast is partnering to provide a full time dentist, dental hygienist, and receptionist to help us provide public dental care in our new building as part of our dental hygiene training program.
  • Other local hospitals have also formed partnerships with us worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • The University of Texas at Tyler allowed 200 of our students to live in their new student housing while we are building more on our campus. They have been terrific partners in numerous endeavors and are also the largest recipient of our transfer students.

There are dozens more partnerships I could list, and all have enabled us to do much more than we could alone.

Just a few of the lessons learned:

  1. Successfully partnering with anyone is like a good marriage. Each partner must feel like they "married up." Each side has to benefit and neither side should feel that they got less of a good deal than the other.
  2. The best opportunities emerge when neither party could fulfill its mission without the help of the other. Neither one could be successful alone.
  3. People are naturally drawn together for mutual benefit. Humans have always needed to collaborate so that our fragile species could survive.
  4. When you are working together with a strong partner, no pesa! Really!

Six Things a College Recruiter Won't Tell You

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

High school students today are even more clueless than I was about choosing a college and a career path (and as the first in my family to attend college, I set the naiveté bar high!). Today's college-going students and the people who advise them know even less about college and careers than in my era, and college recruiters who visit schools aren't unbiased about where they want you to go to college.

With so little good information, so much misinformation, and so much money at stake, it's no wonder that poor decisions are made. Anyway, here's the advice I'd give my children and (all too soon) my grandchildren:

1. Good people don't always give good advice. The people that you rely on for advice, such as teachers, parents and friends, probably aren't reliable sources for choosing a college and career. These days, you and your friends are less likely to have had exposure to the real working world, as summer and after-school jobs are not as prevalent as they once were and students' schedules are already overfilled with other activities. Your counselors and teachers are also far less likely to have outside summer jobs or to have worked outside of education. In most states, counselors must first be teachers in order to become school counselors. They are eminently prepared to guide you into education and teaching jobs but may know less about high demand/high skill/high pay careers (and how to best get into these fields) than your next door neighbor.

2. You may not be the one that profits from your education. At private for-profit schools, the recruiter isn't as interested in you profiting from your education as he is that his employer and the school's stockholders make a profit from you and from taxpayers. Many of these publicly traded, high-cost marketing machines get 90 percent of their money from federal funds, but that doesn't leave you off the hook. Last year, taxpayers paid out over $32 billion to for-profit colleges while the average student stayed enrolled in them for just four months. Although these students opted out, they can't opt out of the huge student loan debts they signed onto. Unless repaid, they won't be able to receive financial aid to attend another college and chances are that they wasted their one chance at higher education. With no new skills, these former students are left working at minimum wage jobs while trying to pay back massive loans. When they default, the taxpayers pay but the former students are still locked into low wage jobs and prevented from returning to college because of their unpaid loans. The quality of instruction varies widely and not all the for-profits are bad choices, but before you let some persuasive salesperson/recruiter sign you up, click on this link or at least read the executive summary of the Senate report.

3. The "best" college for you is the one you graduate from. Lots of people believe that price and quality are interchangeable. If that were true, the for-profit schools would be in the top tiers. Too many students choose a college for its prestige instead of its value. They hope to impress family and friends even though it's far less prestigious to drop out of Harvard than to graduate from a good public college. If the college that impresses your friends and family is going to be too expensive, too far from home, or too big an adjustment for you to be successful there as a young student away from home for the first time, there are better choices. You don't need to bankrupt your family and yourself with loans to get a good education and a bright future.

4. Your future employer doesn't care where you first enrolled in college. People who will drive an extra mile to save a nickel per gallon to fill up their cars will spend thousands of dollars unnecessarily for a college education that could have cost so much less. Transfer as much coursework as you can, at least one or two years' worth, from a public or community college into a more prestigious college. It will cost you two to five times less and your future employer will not know or care how much you paid for your degree. Even better, many prestigious colleges offer generous transfer scholarships because it's a good deal for them -- they get to claim a great future alumnus who they only had to provide a scholarship for two years and who already was a proven success.

5. The idea that everyone needs a college degree is wrong-headed, especially when talking about four-year degrees. Most everyone needs to get skills and education beyond high school but a four-year degree is a terrible choice for many people. If you choose to study a major that feels good but pays so little that you can never pay back the loans you took out to get it, those good feelings will disappear after you leave the womb of college. According to a recent ManPowerGroup survey involving more than 1,000 U.S. employers, the most difficult positions to fill are those in skilled trades, such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical work and other tool-wielding professions. Those workers, also known as craftsmen or artisans, typically develop their skills through training as apprentices. They topped Manpower's list for a fourth consecutive year. At the same time, countless students find themselves majoring in fields with no career future. Law schools are turning out thousands of graduates each year who will never find work as lawyers. History and music majors will enjoy their college days studying a field they're interested in, but, unless they choose to teach, will not find work in their field of study. Too many baccalaureate graduates with prestigious pedigrees graduate with $100,000 or more in student loans into low paying jobs and no hope of ever paying back those loans. In February, CNN Money reported on a study that concluded that graduates of two-year colleges typically out-earn graduates of four-year universities, and they do so while acquiring far less debt - or none at all.

6. You don't have to be an economist to understand that economics determines which college majors are most available to you. One of higher education's dirty little secrets is that we continue to graduate an oversupply of baccalaureate degrees in fields with no job demand. While there is a shortage of graduates in high-demand fields like science, engineering, mathematics, technology and health sciences, there is little or no demand for history, English, philosophy, liberal arts, psychology or sociology graduates. Why don't colleges respond to market demands? It is many times more expensive and more difficult to produce the graduates in highest demand. High demand people aren't lining up for low paying teaching fields, the teaching labs are enormously expensive for colleges to provide, and large classes aren't feasible. Not so in the most widely offered and popular majors. As a freshman student in a psychology class, I asked my professor why all the research studies seemed to be conducted on either freshman psychology students or laboratory rats. "They are both inexpensive and readily available" was the answer. Most colleges have massive departments with tenured (lifetime) professors whose jobs are only in danger if no students choose their major.

I encourage you to share these observations with people you know who are currently giving thought to their future college. It might save them money, time or both.

Dr. Mike Metke

President, Tyler Junior College


Dr. Mike Metke began his duties as President of Tyler Junior College on December 1, 2007. Since joining TJC, he has championed safety and civility, fitness and a capital bond proposal.

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