Colleges and universities have entered a new learning frontier. Today, many higher education institutions grapple with challenges like lower enrollment figures, incessant budget crunches, and sweeping shifts in learner demographics. 

To survive and grow in this new reality, colleges and universities must adapt their programs, administrative processes, and target markets. One promising area for higher education to focus on is business and industry. In 2014, U.S. spending on corporate training grew by 15 percent, the highest growth rate in seven years. Yet despite this avalanche of spending, research shows that many learning executives feel vexed by a lack of powerful and effective training programs. 

My consulting firm conducted research to better understand the challenges training executives face, and the role higher education can play in solving their problems. After a complete review of recent research, we conducted a structured survey with top training executives at 16 major corporations in diverse industries, ranging in size from $1 billion to $55 billion in annual revenues. We then interviewed leaders of executive education programs at several leading universities to understand what solutions they’re offering.

From this research, we’ve found that the majority of training executives view higher education as a potential partner. Plus, we’ve uncovered seven ways higher education institutions can bolster their programs to attract more partnerships:

1. Be flexible in course structure and design and offer customized courses. Overwhelmingly, training executives want greater flexibility from higher education to customize courses to an industry or a specific development need. “Colleges need to think more innovatively and bring classes to market faster to meet the needs of business, otherwise if they don’t, another college will, and businesses will go there,” explains Bryan Albrecht, president of Gateway Technical College in Wisconsin. 

2. Offer ways for companies to track performance analytics. Leaders need assurance they’re receiving a high return on learning and development investments. At Corporate College, a division of Cuyahoga Community College in the greater Cleveland area, they work to measure and analyze the results of courses with the goal to show measurable results to the organization on the new skills employees gain. For example, if they work with a manager to teach him how to better delegate responsibility, they’ll have him track what tasks he was then able to complete. 

3. Create fast and simple solutions for learners to search, register, and pay for courses online, or through an organization’s web portal. As the onus shifts onto individuals to own their career development, learners want easy ways to search for courses, sign up, and pay. “If you want to increase engagement and get ongoing learning into your employees’ hands, then you have to bring learning to them, not the other way around,” says Daryl Zapoticzny, global head of talent at Dun and Bradstreet. This includes offering learners the ability to register for classes in person, over the phone, online, or by mail.

4. Make it simple for learning and development professionals to bulk register and pay for multiple employee courses online. Training executives are crunched for time and want simplicity and ease of registering and paying for a large number of learners at once. 

5. Use engaging, high-quality, and easy-to-access content. Learners want a variety of tools they can easily access and consume on demand. Higher education institutions that can produce and provide numerous learning modalities like massive open online courses (MOOCs), videos, games, podcasts, interactive tools, classroom teaching, or online reading in the short and long term will boost their appeal. 

6. Provide experiential learning. Learners want more than classroom, lecture-style learning options—they crave real-life experience. At California Polytechnic State University, experiential learning is taken seriously through its Learn by Doing approach. “Learn by Doing is an active and engaged approach to learning that takes the student away from the traditional lecture, and places them at the center of the action to problem solve and troubleshoot situations, like what they’d see in the corporate world,” says Brian Greenwood, associate professor and chair of the Learn by Doing Conference. 

7. Directly communicate and market courses. “With so many demands on people’s time, it’s all about how easy it is for students to access your college,” says Larry Keen, president of Fayetteville Technical Community College in North Carolina. “Leveraging the technological advancement is important not just for teaching the classes, but for communicating and interacting with students.” It’s become critically important that institutions communicate directly with training executives and their learners on course descriptions, costs, class time, and other relevant information.

If higher education wants to tap into the opportunities available in corporate training programs, they’ll have to make adjustments to their processes and programs. While change is rarely easy, training executives want to work with higher education, so these changes could make a substantial difference in the viability and longevity of an institution.