A few years ago our firm, Destiny Solutions, surveyed 200 companies across North America to find out about their continuing education preferences. What we found was almost all these employers had a system in place to financially support continuing education for their staffers, but only 16 percent felt the programs available were adequate for their needs and only 9 percent had established a partnership with a college or university. 

But now savvy higher-ed institutions are tailoring existing programs to address the needs of corporate clients. Call it customized education or just-in-time learning. I call it brilliant. 

Related: Can the Academic Entrepreneur Save the Ivory Tower?

Employers are seeking continuing-education opportunities for their employees, and colleges and universities are searching for additional revenue streams to make up for a dip in the number of college students. The match, in theory, works on several levels. 

But how can entrepreneurs evaluate whether the nearby college is the dance partner of choice? The critical steps to forging a successful partnership with a university include defining the company's requirements, evaluating the relevance for the industry in question, demanding quality customer service and finding customizable courses. 

Related: Will That Training Program Work?

Know the company's needs. Business owners need to consider what they hope to gain from a relationship with a college or university. Without a company's providing requirements, a college or university will find it difficult to satisfy the needs of the organization. The managers of a business should evaluate whether they want employees to walk away with theoretical concepts or concrete skills. And it is the company’s job to make sure that the chosen institution educates students in a way that provides the right outcomes.

Industry expertise. Employers can’t afford to educate their employees just for learning’s sake. Instead, the boss needs staffers to learn the precise skills that will translate into improved performance and increased output.

The United States has thousands of accredited higher-education providers. With so many choices, business managers need to look for institutions that are highly attuned to their company's marketplace and with a proven track record of serving firms in the same industry.

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Customer service. Managers typically expect a high level of service from each vendor -- and higher-ed institutions should provide the same. Colleges and universities are just beginning to embrace customer service, but market leaders understand that this is crucial to attracting and retaining corporate clients. 

“Companies will be looking for their university partner to treat them better than commercial training providers do," Chris Proulx, chief executive officer at my client, eCornell, stated in an EvoLLLution post. "The promise of the university’s brand is expected to shine through services as well as content.”  

Look for institutions that value the relationship and take steps to provide the company and its employees with a great experience.

Be ready to customize courses. Institutions willing to  tailor programs for unique business processes and challenges offer significant additional value. But don’t expect them to create new programs from scratch.  

The most successful colleges and universities pride themselves on customizing offerings for individual needs. They don’t, however, completely reinvent programs based on corporate interests. Economically it’s just not feasible unless corporations foot  the bill. Instead, smart institutions create a framework that allows corporations to mix and match classes to create custom certificates or to present real-time, company-specific case studies. 

Related: How Making Employees Lifelong Learners Can Help Your Company Succeed