University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Here’s Why Industry and Business Colleges Need Each Other to Survive

Here’s Why Industry and Business Colleges Need Each Other to Survive

May 20, 2021 | By Stephen Caldwell

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It’s not new for business schools to collaborate with organizations in industry, but these joint ventures have grown increasingly important in recent years.

In fact, they no longer can be viewed as just “value adds” or a “nice-to-haves.” Now they are essential to the very survival of both the colleges and the companies.

An overstatement?

Not really. When you look at the trends in business and business education, you can’t help but conclude that the two need each other like trains need tracks and tracks need trains.

Universities, and business schools in particular, face more tension than ever between long-held commitments to reward deep, theoretical research and the need to educate agile, nimble students who can thrive in the workforce. Innovative business colleges are responding by inventing new models of higher education that keep them financially solvent, while still serving the greater good of industry and society with scholarly research and practical teaching. And the essential component of the new models is a greater emphasis on collaboration with industry.

These partnerships help colleges understand the fast-paced changes of industry so that they can research relevant ideas and trends, so they can adjust their curriculums and instruction methods, and so their approach can include practitioners as speakers, mentors and advisers.

Neil Braun, the chief executive officer of Mediflix and former dean of the Lubin School of Business at Pace University, put it this way in a video for AACSB’s Business Practices Council: “Collaborating with business to close that gap, and then changing the institutions to address it, is sort of a live-or-die opportunity.”

Industry, meanwhile, needs these partnerships to ensure their pipeline of talent is filled with candidates who actually can help them succeed. Plus, relevant research by the best and brightest academic minds helps solve their ongoing problems, shapes public policy, and gives them the new technologies and best practices they need for the future.

For example, the Supply Chain Management Research Center at the University of Arkansas began in 1996 with projects that explored things like how public policy shapes the health care supply chain or the unintended consequences of the Food Safety Modernization Act. These streams of research, done in collaboration with industry partners, had an impact on future legislation, as well as decisions made by industry leaders.

In the AACSB video, Fisher College of Business Dean Anil Makhija called such centers “the interface between academia and practice. What these kinds of centers do is, they bring the two sides together, and engage them in a conversation, where the academic, the theory and practice come together.”

Centers not only produce joint research, but they also host conferences and events that promote exchanges of ideas and information and that build relationships, so they have become a popular approach to collaborations. The Sam M. Walton College of Business, for instance, has the Blockchain Center of Excellence, the Center for Business and Economic Research, and the aforementioned Supply Chain Management Research Center.

But centers are just one approach.

It’s also common to find partnerships that bring in industry experts as guest speakers and mentors, send students out as interns and develop programs for executive education that help people in business stay up on the latest theory and best practices. Even within those traditional approaches, however, innovation is necessary and happening. For instance, executive education at the Walton College includes open enrollment classes, courses customized for specific organizations and training and thought-leadership conferences not only at the main U of A campus but at satellite facilities in other parts of the state.

More recent approaches include thought-leadership initiatives such as the Business Integrity Leadership Initiative or the Customer Centric Leadership Initiative, as well as interdisciplinary programs that promote innovation and entrepreneurship such as the McMillon Innovation Studio or the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub.

Business and higher education are reinventing themselves in many ways to stay relevant to the times. The challenge for higher education is to move more quickly and nimbly than ever to meet the needs of industry. The challenge for industry is to invest in the long game of research and student success. If both can do their part, the trains will keep rolling down the tracks.

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Matt WallerStephen Caldwell is Chief Word Architect for WordBuilders, Inc., where he spends most of his time helping clients discover, craft, and share the messages of their hearts. In addition to writing and editing for newspapers, magazines, and on numerous book projects, he has developed leadership and functional training for Fortune 500 companies. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.