It is not unusual to see students and faculty from Baldwin Wallace University (BW) working, learning or teaching at organizations throughout Greater Cleveland. The university’s long history of contributions to the region dates back to its founding in 1845.
These deep roots in the community are growing stronger as a part of the university’s 2019-2023 strategic plan, which calls for BW to be “positioned as an essential partner in the economic and community development of Northeast Ohio and beyond.”
Services like consulting, corporate training and development and online learning are three big ways the university is advancing this goal.
“We have been working in the professional development space for decades. We really focus on creating custom solutions,” says John DiGennaro, associate provost and executive director of university partnerships. “Business school faculty and faculty from all of our schools already provide consulting on a variety of topics. We want people to think of BW as a place to go for this type of support.”
DiGennaro and his team are charged with increasing the university’s presence in the business community in support of the new strategic plan, in which expanding industry and community partnerships is a major focus.
“We have a great foundation to build on,” he says. “Our faculty members bring expertise in a variety of areas. We want to further highlight our work and educate organizations about how BW can help.”
BW already partners with companies like Sherwin-Williams, Southwest General Health Center and Vitamix, just to name a few. At the same time, DiGennaro points out that 80% of Northeast Ohio organizations have less than 20 employees.
“We have a wide market for other organizations, both profit and nonprofit, that don’t have access to things like training and development and tuition reimbursement. We want to be their provider,” he adds.
BW’s strategic goal is on track with the business trend to create cultures of continuous learning and, in turn, build stronger, more dynamic employees. As companies face shortages of skilled workers for some of the most in-demand jobs, employers are turning to universities to develop academic programs that provide employees with degrees, skills and training to fill these positions.
One of the BW partnerships that fits this model is a program with a local manufacturer through which they collaborate on an innovative undergraduate business degree program. Employees are able to work on their schoolwork during breaks in the day, creating a work-life-school balance. BW also is fostering continuous learning through a partnership with Southwest General Health Center through which hospital employees have the opportunity to earn degrees, including MBAs.
Through the partnership, a customized mix of degrees and tuition costs is offered. Direct billing to the hospital for tuition eliminates out-of-pocket costs for employees. Employees can choose how they want to take courses -— live on-site, remote live or recorded. While the degree programs are still new, they have already seen considerable interest and enrolled students.
In addition, a team from BW recently engaged nearly 100 Southwest General staff in a diversity, equity and inclusion training program on-site at BW. The program was custom designed for the hospital based on survey results.
“We would like to thank our community partner, Baldwin Wallace University, for helping to ensure that our employees were able to continue to reach their educational goals,” says Stephanie Evers, learning and development manager at Southwest General. “We were able to collaborate on this important initiative by addressing flexibility in programs and courses, simplifying administrative processing and easing the financial burden by offering direct billing.”
Adult Learners: Who are they?
EAB, a higher education consulting firm, defines adult learners as students aged 25 and older and projects a 21% increase in the number of learners age 25 to 34 by 2022. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, this group makes up nearly half of all students currently enrolled in colleges and universities.
The adult learner market also is diverse. The Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation reports that about 38% of all undergraduate students are older than 25. More than 25% of them are raising children, and about 58% of them work while enrolled in college.
A growing number of these learners are seeking post-secondary training that will help them get jobs for in-demand careers or to advance their current careers. Online classes can help them gain these critical skills. BW has a built-in infrastructure to support this.
“We provide programs, degrees and certificates that provide adult learners with skills and knowledge that they can apply right away,” adds DiGennero.
He says BW can help build a learning path for these learners and connect that learning to an industry-recognized credential. “We hope to be a place for continual learning, networking and resources.”
In January, BW dedicated its new Austin E. Knowlton Center, a high-tech academic facility to STEM learning and industry collaboration. It is yet another way the university will fill the pipeline of Northeast Ohio’s future workforce. Built with an eye to community partnerships, the facility was designed with industry input. Its labs were built to nurture collaboration with regional partners.
DiGennaro believes that resources like the new facility will further advance the ties between industry and the university. “We are leveraging talent from all of the different parts of the university,” he says.
Early reports suggest that the partnership initiative is gaining traction.
“We have been getting anecdotal feedback — very good feedback — from people in the marketplace who are listening and very excited about what BW is doing,” DiGennaro adds.