Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Expanding online network brings university education to corporate employees


By David Schwartz
Published: August 4th, 2020

A detailed article on the InStride approach to online employer education, and its impact on other areas of industry engagement, appears in the July issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor For subscription information, click here.

The most successful programs seeking to link academia and industry focus on meeting the needs of both partners equally, and InStride, a growing online education network, is looking to join that “club” by matching the educational needs of the companies and their employees with the virtual educational services of the universities. And in a mere 18 months, they seem to be off to a good start.

The “public benefit” company includes in its membership R1 institutions like Arizona State University (ASU), Harvard Business School Online, The City University of New York (CUNY), the University of Washington Continuum College, and its most recent partner UW-Madison, as well as other institutions around the world. Its industry roster includes Aramark, Discount Tire, InfoSys, and more than 20 others. InStride seeks to develop customized employee education programs “that deliver business ROI and social impact.” 

Universities partnering with InStride hope not only to boost enrollment in online programs, but also open up an avenue for other forms of engagement with the participating companies.

“We’ve got a growing portfolio of online masters’ degrees and certification, and now we’re fully online with a graduate degree in personal finance — and we intend to grow,” shares UW-Madison’s vice chancellor for university relations Charles Hoslet. “The key here is to be able to market directly to prospective students, as well as to our employer partners, and that’s where InStride really makes a big difference through their network’s ability to market to a broader pool through national- and global-scale employers. That, coupled with the fact that they’ve taken a very strategic approach with who they partner with in terms of all the universities and companies they work with, made it a good fit for us.”

InStride, explains CEO Vivek Sharma, is a collaboration between ASU and the Rise Fund, a global impact fund led by TPG Growth, “committed to achieving social and environmental impact alongside financial returns.” The inspiration for the company, he says, was the successful partnership between ASU and Starbucks, in which the company’s employees are offered free tuition at the university.

“The logic is very simple,” says Sharma. “If you look at what corporate America does, corporate sponsored training programs and tuition assistance spend as much as $28 billion a year. As we started looking at what gave CEOs satisfaction, talent attraction was near the top. But we found widespread dissatisfaction with these programs in actual return, and that’s how InStride was formed.”

What does Hoslet hope to gain from the partnership? “We see the online space as an important growth area — not just from revenue, but increasingly students, particularly returning ones, can’t come and spend a couple of years on campus,” he explains. “They have the ability to participate now through a fully online degree program. So, our goal is to meet what we see as a growing need among students of all [types].”

Hoslet also sees these contacts as presenting the opportunity for additional collaboration. “As we open the door for these online programs, it also opens the door to having conversations about other resources and expertise our university has that a company may be able to take advantage of,” he says. “For example, they may say they’re also interested in recruiting talent.”

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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