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University Partnership Plans – Platinum, Gold, Silver, etc. (Updated 01/2/2016: Financial Impact, Plans, User Maps, Execution, Final Para)

Universities offer mutually beneficial partnership plans (Platinum, Gold, Silver, etc.) to Companies to tackle student financing needs.

Photo of Shruti Garg

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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

The model proposes mutually beneficial strategic alliances between universities and companies. Companies offer either sponsorship to cover some or all elements of the cost of college or earning opportunities to students. Depending on their contribution they get benefits from the universities. Universities offer them various Partnership Plans (Platinum, Gold, Silver, etc.). For example, in the Platinum Plan, a company pledges $ 500K in scholarships and 10 internships and gets specific benefits.

Companies can benefit via these partnerships in the following ways: 

1) Universities coordinate with the R&D teams of partner firms and conduct research projects for them. 2) Universities offer free certificate courses and create specifically tailored learning and development programs for their employees. 3) Access to college facilities for organizing trade shows, product launches, conferences and other company events. 4) Access to students as a sample group for conducting market research, consumer focus groups, surveys, product test runs, pliot launches, test ad-campaigns, referral programs, etc. 5) Marketing support – Company marketing collaterals placed in college brochures, newsletters and journals, banners and placards in college events, etc. 6) Business Incubation and mentorship support to start-ups that promise to offer internships to students. 7) Innovative business/technology ideas sourced from students through contests and open challenges, e.g. “Microsoft Imagine Cup”. 8) Low skilled tasks that are usually outsourced by the company to a temporary workforce can be offered to students – such asdata entry work, writing product reviews, customer cold calling, etc. Students benefit monetarily while companies get a steady stream of workforce for such jobs. 9) University events – Company delegates get free passes for university networking events such as industry conferences, networking events, panel discussions, co-curricular events, etc. 10) Help companies in reaching their CSR goals. Some companies have specific CSR objectives such as promoting diversity, students from a specific minority group, etc. Universities can help them in reaching these targets by having them offer focused scholarships for niche student groups.

Research Insights and Cost-Benefit Analysis

After analyzing data from online reports and conducting interviews with HR/Business Managers of companies and Corporate Relationship teams of universities, the following insights have been obtained to assess the potential cost savings and revenue uplift that can be achieved by a partner companies. Please find the key insights below:

  • Financial worth to companies – The monetary impact of these benefits differ significantly. These are the ideas in descending order of the magnitude of financial attractiveness: a) Corporate sponsored research projects and open innovation idea challenges can have the most valuable impact. They could help in saving a few hundred thousand dollars in research costs as well as have the potential to provide millions of dollars in ROI apart from significant strategic advantage. b) Targeted marketing to other corporate partners and alumni members and access to networking opportunities could help in generating significant leads which might lead to new revenue opportunities worth a few thousand to few million dollars depending on the size of each deal and nature of business. For example, reputed universities such as Stanford or Oxford have a large well established alumni community and corporate network. Being promoted to this group could result in significant new business opportunities. c) Learning and development programs present the next sizable opportunity. According to the Association for Talent Development's (ATD) 2014 study, a midsize organization with 500 employees spends on an average $950k annually on learning and development budget, while a large company with greater than 10,000 employees on an average spends $8.4 million in this area. If even a small portion of these learning needs could be satisfied by specifically tailored university programs, it presents a significant cost saving opportunity for the partner company. d) Recruitment costs can be saved significantly by offering full time positions to students that engage with them through internships/other projects. A large scale company in a high growth sector such as IT spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on recruitment agencies, talent acquisition partner firms, general recruitment drives, etc. These hiring costs can come down significantly by hiring students for full time roles. e) If a company offers paid opportunities such as market research activities, user beta tests and low skilled tasks such as data entry work to 100 students, it can save $50k-$400k annually, if it’s a large company and approx. $ 30k annually if it’s a small company. f) The next area is cost savings attained by providing access to college facilities for company events to small scale companies (less than 100 employees) and business incubation support provided to start-ups. The potential savings in this case could range from approx. $30k to $50k annually. (For a detailed analysis of how some of the above calculations were obtained, check the “Reference Sheet for Calculations” attachment.)
  • Industry Sectors  – Some of the ideas such as corporate sponsored research projects and technology led innovation challenges are most well suited to Science/Technology related industries such as IT, Electronics, Communications, Pharmaceutical, Healthcare, etc. While ideas such as access to students for conducting market research, consumer focus groups, surveys etc. are most suited to consumer oriented industries such as CPG/FMCG. User beta tests are most suited to software, internet and mobile technology companies.
  • Large-Scale, Mid-Scale and Small-Scale Companies – Large-scale companies might be most interested in ideas such as corporate research projects, innovation challenges, learning and development programs, networking events and achieving their CSR goals. They might be most interested in the long term strategic benefits than saving a few bucks. While mid-sized and smaller organizations might be most interested in marketing support, networking opportunities, learning and development programs. A start-up might benefit most from business incubation, mentorship support, access to relevant networking events such as those attended by VCs, etc.

Use Cases, Sample Plans and Student Benefits

Let us discuss 3 scenarios where a large scale Technology MNC, an early stage start-up and a medium sized CPG company have strategic alliances with a university.

1)Large Tech MNC with greater than 10,000 employees

A large MNC involves a university in their research initiatives and is able to save $500k in R&D costs , around 5% of their learning and development costs through tailored university programs (say approx. $ 400k based on previous analysis) and around $100k savings in recruitment costs on hiring 20 student interns (assuming $5000 savings per recruit). This provides net savings of $ 1 million through university affiliation. Assuming the cost of attendance (tuition and living expenses) for a college student for 1 year is $60k. They can provide scholarships covering full attendance cost to 16 students ($ 1 million divided by $60k) every year. Assuming each student intern is paid approx. $10k for the duration of summer internship, that is another avenue to make up for higher education costs. Additionally the university may also aim for a profit sharing agreement in the new revenue streams generated by its research projects for the company and this earning could be further used to sponsor more student scholarships.


An early stage 5-member start-up gets business incubation support from a university and saves $60k annually. It also gets free access to business building, capital raising and other entrepreneurial workshops. Assuming there are 10 such events in a year and $100 is the attendance cost of each. For a 5 member team, the annual worth = $100 * 5 * 10 = $5,000. The start-up also gets access to networking events through which it is able to connect to a VC or angel investor. If a deal materializes through the university network, the contract might state that a small proportion of the funds thus generated could be used to provide student internships, paid projects and scholarships. For instance, if a start-up is able to win $ 1 million from a VC through the university, it commits 5% ($50k) back to the college. The total financial commitment that the start-up could pledge back to the university in return is $115k ($60k + $5k + $50k). It could offer 3 student internships/projects with a stipend of $5,000 each, totalling $15k and spend the remaining $100k on offering scholarships.

3)Mid-size CPG company with about 1,000 employees

A CPG company engages a business school to develop learning programs for its executives, sales and marketing professionals, customer insights teams, etc. and is able to save 10% of its learning and development costs (average L&D costs for an organization of this scale is $ 1.9 million, so 10% is approx $200k). It also hires university facilities for large scale company gatherings such as annual meetings, product launches, etc. Assuming it organizes a big scale event 10 times a year at a reasonably priced venue, the annual cost savings for this comes out to be: (10 times) * $5000 (data obtained through research – check “Reference Sheet for Calculations” attachment) = $50k. The net savings it gains in this case from university affiliation = $250k. They can sponsor approx. 4 student scholarships using these cost savings ($250k/$60k) each year. The company also runs its market research programs, consumer focus groups and product beta tests, ad campaign tests on the student community. If 100 students work 10 hour per month on these and are paid $10 dollar for 2 hours of work, they earn $50 per month, working for 10 months could generate $500 per year from 1 such company. If a student is able to work on such projects from multiple companies for 10 hours per week, they could earn about $ 2000 per year. This might be a small figure, but it could help in sponsoring laptops, books, etc. Plus it also provides a networking opportunity for the student to engage with the corporates and see how things work in the real world.

A University can engage in multiple such partnerships with companies from diverse industries with different sizes and scales of operations to tackle the financing needs of all the students who face challenges in funding their education.

User Experience Maps

Please find attached the user experience maps describing the end-to-end user journey of a student as well as a large scale Tech MNC who benefit through these University Partnership Plans.

Ideas for Implementation

A university can follow the steps below to implement these ideas:

Step 1: The Corporate Relationship committee meets with the Admission and Financial Aid committees to evaluate the net requirement for financial assistance based on past few years' data - How many students were unable to join the program or had to drop out in past few years because they failed to secure finances? What was their average total financial need? How many students were able to receive funding through existing university resources? Has there been any change in these sources?

Step 2: The university should first start pilots with existing industry partners who are associated with them in some way or the other since it would be relatively easier to convince them as compared to exploring new partnerships. It should organize cross-functional meetings attended by company executives across R&D, Learning & Development, Marketing, HR, Talent Acquisition, etc. and university representatives responsible for creating course content, event management, research, etc. 

Step 3: Identify ways in which the university could provide benefits to the partner company. Conduct cost-benefit analysis and create financial projections for the net benefits that could be availed by the partner company.

Step 4: Some of the benefits provide cost savings which can be determined conclusively in advance, while some might provide revenue uplift which can be figured only after a while. Create partnership plans with the company where they commit to offer scholarships, loan benefits, etc. to students for an amount equal or close to the net cost savings they could generate.

Step 5: Once all existing industry partners have been exploited and if still there is a gap between the total financial requirement and the amount committed by partners, the university should explore opportunities for new partnerships and create strategy and sales pitches for targeting new companies. Conduct cross-functional meetings and follow steps 3 and 4 again.

Step 6: The partner companies offers scholarships to the students at the start of the program and internships and projects during the course of the program. 

Step 7: If any company is able to generate new sources of revenue through university collaboration (research, marketing, networking, VC funding, etc.), they could share a small percentage of these back with the university, which can be further utilized by the latter for offering scholarships to students in the next fiscal year. Include these clauses in the initial agreement as a part of the original contract beforehand mentioned in Step 4.

Step 8: The Corporate Relationship team at the university gathers feedback periodically from all stakeholders - partner companies, university administration, students, etc. to see which initiatives work and do not work and to improve them further.

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Ensuring these benefits reach students from low income families...

University admissions are merit based irrespective of the economic background of the candidates. Students from low income families usually grow up in unfavorable circumstances and they don't have a level playing field as compared to others. It's a reasonable possibility that students from more privileged backgrounds perform better than them during admission tests and are able to secure most of the seats. A university that really wants to help the underprivileged students can reserve 5-10% of their seats specifically for them. So that they get additional opportunities to secure an admission apart from the more competitive general applicant pool. But this would reduce the net seats available to other candidates. To tackle this, universities can increase their student intake slightly so that the other candidates are not impacted and the total seats available to them stays the same. Usually universities are able to handle this minor increment in number of students without any impact on their resources and without the need to invest in additional facilities. In terms of the benefits available to the students through university-industry collaborations: Some benefits such as need based scholarships should be available only to students who struggle with finances. While research projects, internships and idea contests should be available to everyone irrespective of their economic background as a partner company wouldn't like to compromise on the quality of work obtained through these important initiatives. However, earning opportunities through some of the easier, low-skilled tasks such as filling customer research surveys, beta tests, data entry work, etc. can be be offered first to students from low income backgrounds.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I had interviewed stakeholders at some companies and universities to see how many of the above ideas would be feasible and to get a sense of the costs and revenues involved. Next step would be to contact the Corporate Relationship teams at 1 or 2 universities and assist them in testing these ideas in the real world through their existing industry partnerships as well as help them in scouting new opportunities for strategic alliances.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

I would appreciate guidance in the following: 1. Feedback to refine the model further. 2. Network and contacts with relevant stakeholders in academia, industry, etc. to implement some of these ideas and create impact.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Are you interested in the Path to Pitching track we've developed for this challenge?

  • No

Evaluation results

13 evaluations so far

1. Does this idea make college more accessible, especially for low income students in the U.S.?

Yes! - 46.2%

To a degree - 38.5%

Not that I can tell - 15.4%

2. Does this idea think beyond current cost structures of college and activate new sectors or partners?

Yes! - 50%

It's attempting to - 41.7%

Not that I can tell - 8.3%

3. How excited are you about this idea?

I'm so excited I just can't hide it! - 41.7%

I'm pretty neutral in my excitement level - 33.3%

I don't feel very excited about this idea. - 25%

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Attachments (3)

Reference Sheet for Calculations.pdf

Explanation for some of the calculations mentioned

User Experience Map - Company.pdf

User Experience Map for a company's partnership journey with a university

User Experience Map - Student.pdf

User Experience Map for a student's end-to-end journey


Join the conversation:

Photo of Dawn Fucci

I would say to others who considering setting up in business or in need of an urgent funding - for any reason @ 2% rate to contact JBF via address below;

Go for it. Don’t be deterred if you don’t have any luck with the banks there are funder - out there like JBF who will lend, even if you are not in the best position.

Photo of Jim


As I mentioned in previous note, you list some great ideas for benefits that companies could derive via the school/corporate partnership. However, item (8) and part of item (5) might be controversial:
"Preference to company employees who apply for ... courses... extra credits to boost chances of admission..."
"...professors help in content marketing through positive reviews in journals and publications."

But now that I think about it, it's actually fortunate that you listed some potentially controversial return benefits for the companies. This raises some very important points. In the real world, real partnership programs may run the risk of considering mutual benefits that are controversial and that may even lead to a scandal. Sometimes there is a very subtle, fine line between mutual benefit partner scenarios that are a positive win-win situation and a partner arrangement that would be considered to be a Quid Pro Quo, or at least questionable.
Here's an interesting recent news story about a corporate/university relationship that ended in a scandal (though this example is not related to financing students' educations):

One thing you might consider adding to your pitch is a discussion of some sort of framework of "governance", such as the concept of an oversight committee. Such a committee could review proposals for partnership arrangements and benefits, and raise a red flag on proposals that are questionable. There could be faculty representation, neutral outside third-party representation not connected with university or companies, etc. Or even some sort of larger organization that recommends guidelines for all university/corporate partnerships throughout the country to follow. I think the concept of governance or oversight could strengthen your pitch. If you do decide to expand in that direction, you might even turn those 2 controversial items I mentioned above into examples of the kinds of questions with which an oversight committee might need to contend.

Photo of Shruti Garg

Hi Jim,

Thank you so much for taking out time to review my write up and for offering very useful suggestions. And I agree with you that some items on the list are indeed not so straight forward and might even have a controversial aspect to them. In fact apart from the possible controversial nature, there are areas which might present a better monetization opportunity to the university than simply offering it as a partnership proposition to industry players. For example, the first element in the list which is commercializing university research. Actually from a university point of view a thorough cost benefit analysis is required to identify which works best for them - a partnership or harnessing their capabilities on their own. Obviously I am assuming here that the additional revenue thus generated would be put to use for financing education of students from low income families. I think inorder to develop these ideas in a more elaborate fashion I need to do some ground research (connect with some universities, industry players, research different business models of corporate-academia alliances, etc.) to generate key insights regarding what is workable and what is not. And I also appreciate your recommendation for setting up a neutral governing body to oversee this. Thanks a lot for the idea, it looks like an interesting option. I would also appreciate your suggestions around the following:

1. Any ideas for conducting research to improve my ideas further ?
2. I also have a question around the final implementations. In case if my proposal is selected among the top ideas how do you think it could be implemented ? I have gone through some of the other open challenges here and many of the ideas posted there are by NGOs who work in that field and so could easily take them forward in the real world. In case of this education challenge I think an institution or community working in the higher education space would be in the best position to implement this further. Or would you suggest I as an individual could do something in this direction ? And not just this particular idea but the interesting ideas generated by others here as well for tackling higher education funding challenges.

I would be glad to know your thoughts regarding the above.  Once again thanks a lot for analyzing my ideas and sharing your insights and recommendations.

Best Regards,

Photo of Shane Zhao

Hi Shruti, great questions. I think you're referring to the challenges in the Amplify program - where implementation capacity is an important part of the evaluation process. For the Higher Ed challenge, you don't have to be a part of an NGO or have to have a background in education. Any individual has the capacity to take ideas forward. We might have a convening/ pitch day in February to connect the top ideas to organizations interested in offerin implementation support. That said, we'd love to have you continue working on this. The feedback from the OpenIDEO team and from Jim would be great to consider as you work on the next iteration of this concept:)

Photo of Shruti Garg

Hi Shane,

Thanks for providing clarification. :-) I have also thought about some ways in which this could be implemented in the real world and what could be a possible business model for the same, whether one looks at it from a university perspective or a corporation or a third party perspective. Will include this in my write-up. It will also be very useful to get some feedback or suggestions around the same from the community here. :-)

Best Regards,

Photo of Shruti Garg

Hi Jim,

I have created the final write-up and ended up removing some of the controversial stuff. From my research, it appeared that the universities felt those points could impact their neutrality and hence reputation. Also in the "Ideas to Implement" section I am assuming the Corporate Relationships Team will be responsible for some of the governance/oversight related work. Thanks again for all your pivotal suggestions. It was great to get your insights. :-)


Photo of Quamrul Zia

Human resource generation, values of humanity and work compliance by reasonable wage are the core components for the outcomes!

Photo of Shruti Garg

True. :-) 

Photo of Shruti Garg

I have removed 2 points from the original write-up - 1) Preference to company employees who apply for advanced or executive courses at the university. For example, extra credits to boost chances of admission for MBA candidates from a partner company. 2) Professors help in content marketing through positive reviews in journals and publications.

As per the inputs obtained from interviews, Universities are reluctant to provide these 2 benefits as they feel these could adversely impact their neutrality and reputation.

Photo of Jason Shannon

This is a great idea Shruti!

Regarding the following excerpt:

"9) Low skilled tasks that are usually outsourced by the company to a temporary workforce can be offered to students – such as data entry work, writing product reviews, customer cold calling, etc...."

I especially feel that a connection or relationship like this is very important not only for mutual financial benefit but so that the corporation directly observe the impact of their contribution.  I have seen cases where scholarships were awarded one year but the students failed to display any appreciation only to have the donor back out the next year.  By actually working with the company, the students would have a better opportunity to establish a personal relationship and show gratitude which would in turn encourage future donations.

A thank you, in any form, will go a long way in these situations.

Good luck!


Photo of Shruti Garg

Thanks for your comment and feedback Jason. :-) I agree with you, it might be easy to earn scholarship one time but to keep getting it consistently for subsequent semesters a student might need to satisfy some pre-established criteria or find a way to give back to the corporate sponsor in some way. I have also attained some insights from a University perspective on what kind of corporate projects/internships would they want or not want a student to be working on. I am in the process of updating my write-up and will include these insights generated from some of the interviews I have conducted.

Thanks again for your comment. :-)

Photo of Jim

Some interesting insights here...   
(1) School needs solid academic reputation -- maybe corporate subject matter experts could be guest lecturer or teach a course now and then
(2) incentives for companies, like tuition discounting -- You cover this already. Also after-hours courses are benefit to companies
(3) dedicated, high quality staff on university side who run the program 
(4) Flexibility with transfer credits to help company employees earn graduate degrees
(5) Cohort programs -- Schools steer a whole group of company workers through an extended educational experience as a group
(6) University pays close attention to continuing education needs of partner companies and adapt corporate training programs  so they're relevant

Photo of Jim

A lot of the ongoing discussion of school/corporate partnerships focuses on continuing education, offered by universities and consumed by companies. Attitudes are shifting toward idea of a continuum of training. So university continuing education is making inroads into the workplace. What about the inverse: companies participating more in college education? Could it go beyond providing tuition assistance? Could there be corporate mentorship to students? Could there be a re-birth of the concept of apprenticeship within the context of corporate/university partnerships? The student who is mentored/apprenticed is more likely to be steered toward the benefactor company upon graduation.

Photo of Shruti Garg

Thanks for sharing the article above Jim. And I think you have raised a very important point. Many times we find a common complaint in the industry that the graduates are not job-ready and that the education they receive at universities are too theoretical and does not prepare them for practical skills needed to work in the industry. I think it is a good idea if we could also provide corporate mentorship to students or update some of the curriculum to make it more practical for job.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Welcome to the refinement phase Shruti! We really appreciate how you’re working on a partnerships plan that can be used by multiple universities and companies to collaborate.

In the Refinement phase, we’d love for you to continue to think about how this business solution can be viable in real life. The following are some feedback and provocations to consider. We’d love the see the math behind the value you’re proposing to universities and corporation. How might the benefits of the partnerships yield net positive for a sponsoring company? What are the costs associated with an idea like this? Some companies are able to support their employees’ grad school efforts. If companies were part of this system what additional benefits might they receive? As you dive into this idea a bit further, it’d be great to think about how you might gather this information from corporations. Perhaps you might engage a few heads of HR to crunch some numbers on how this might mathematically work to their benefit?

Here are some key questions and milestones we encourage from all ideas in the Refinement:
1. How might this idea address the unique needs of low-income families and first generation college students?
2. Clearly summarize the value proposition of your idea in 1-2 sentences
3. Identify assumptions that need to be answered in order to validate your value proposition.
4. Collect feedback from potential partners and users to answer the assumptions you’ve identified.
5. Communicate your idea in a visual way with user experience maps

Lastly, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 12/22" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing. We’re excited to see this idea progress in the next weeks!

Photo of Shruti Garg

Thanks for the suggestions. I will work on these to refine the proposal. :)

Photo of Joanna Spoth

Awesome to hear, Shruti! We're especially eager for updates on the cost structure of this idea. Had you had the chance to talk to any heads of HR who might be interested in helping you get some number crunching in?

Photo of Shruti Garg

Hi Joanna,

Thanks for your comment. Yes, I have had the opportunity to speak to a few Business Heads and HR Heads at some corporations as well as Corporate Relationship teams of some universities. I have been able to get some insights and data and currently in the process of updating the write-up. :-)

Best Regards,

Photo of Jim

Shruti, One of the very hard parts of the partnership concept is figuring out how to get things started. I think you've got a lot of good material and concepts to work with. I think that it would help a lot to build something like an experience map. Start by making up a plausible scenario of steps which could little-by-little establish and grow a partnership arrangement. It could start with very modest steps. What would be the most practical first step or two which could kick off a partnership? What you need now is a first stab at a plausible time-line. Not just a bundle of things that could be done, but a sequence of activities, trials, experiments, initiatives, etc that will jumpstart then grow the partnership.
BTW, be as "visual" as possible in showing the progression of the partnership unfolding. 

Photo of Jim

Hi Shruti. Congratulations on your being selected for Refinement phase of Higher Ed challenge! I recently participated in the Refinement phase of the Healthy Lives Challenge, and the OpenIDEO team recommended that I reach out to you to offer any assistance or guidance I can. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions. I was very impressed with your comprehensive coverage of ways the university/corporate partnership can benefit companies. I’d be happy to share my experiences with the OpenIDEO refinement process.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on making it to the Refinement Phase Shruti! In the next few days we'll be sending you additional feedback to help you take this idea forward - so be on the lookout for that. We're looking forward to how this idea will grow!