"Employment Objectives Increasingly Linked to School/Business Partnerships." By William L. Bainbridge and Steven M. Sundre. The EMA Journal. Fall 1991.

EMPLOYMENT OBJECTIVES INCREASINGLY LINKED TO SCHOOL/BUSINESS PARTNERSHIPS

By William L. Bainbridge and Steven M. Sundre

A research professor at a well known university once cautioned graduate students that when drawing conclusions from survey research it is important to consider the nature of the respondents. This academic noted that "...you don't find out much about the health of average Americans by screening only aviation officer candidates."

When we were asked by the EMA Foundation Board to survey the membership on their involvement in school/business partnerships we quickly learned that we had found the "Top Gun" group of corporate human resource professionals when it comes to school/business partnerships.

In our work reviewing school/business partnerships over the past five years we had come to the conclusion that they were generally not tied to the strategic objectives of the company. Frequently, heads of philanthropic foundations or public affairs were given complete responsibility for implementation of programs. In making the assignment, corporations had given little consideration to their employment objectives when organizing school philanthropy. More frequently, there was minimum internal communication, with a set of assumptions that placed positive publicity as the principal goal rather than the strategic objectives of the company.

We found that the respondents to the 1991 survey were proactive individuals who were knowledgeable and generally involved in their company's school/business partnership programs.

The Survey

Increasingly, corporations are investing in public elementary and secondary schools. Of principal concern to corporate leadership is assuring a literate, confident and motivated workforce capable of meeting the business challenges of today's technological workplace.

To that end, a variety of programs have been developed with the shared goals of improving student performance and increasing student motivation. This long-term strategy is intended to improve productivity in the workplace thereby contributing to the ability of U.S. business to compete in current and newly emerging world markets.

Concern with school issues is now an emerging corporate human resource mission with significant implications for recruiting tomorrow's workforce. In order to create a better understanding of this important employment issue, our survey questionnaire was distributed to EMA members in the Spring of 1991. The intent of the instrument was to generate information useful in describing the present state of EMA member involvement in and satisfaction with their respective school partnership programs. The results could then provide a yardstick of activities and a snapshot of satisfaction with those activities.

School Partnership Program Areas

Of the 71 completed survey questionnaires, 59 (83.1 percent) of the respondents indicated that their company participated in some sort of school/business partnership. Employment or other human resource managers (81.4 percent) appear to have significant input into the planning and/or administration of these school/business programs, while 10.2 percent of respondents indicated that such programs were the responsibility of community and public affairs departments.

Ten broad areas of participation were identified:

          AREAS OF PARTICIPATION.................. COMPANIES PARTICIPATING

          Scholarships .......................................  35 (59.3%)
          Adopt-a-School .....................................  35 (59.3%)
          Volunteerism .......................................  34 (57.6%)
          Mentorships ........................................  24 (40.7%)
          Program grants .....................................  21 (35.6%)
          Equipment grants ...................................  18 (30.5%)
          Academic skill training ............................  13 (22.0%)
          Internships ........................................  11 (18.6%)
          School site miscellaneous assistance ...............   9 (15.3%)
          Career planning services ...........................   6 (10.2%)
          Other ..............................................   7 (11.9%)

Provision of scholarships, participation in "adopt-a-school" programs, and individual volunteer work in the schools are clearly the three main areas of participation identified. Provision of scholarships has been a long-time commitment in many corporations, while volunteerism is an emerging area of individual commitment encouraged by companies. Relatively new of the scene and receiving a good deal of publicity are corporate sponsored "adopt-a-school" programs which target individual schools for specific kinds of corporate support and involvement.

Program Effectiveness

It would appear that the most widespread school partnership programs are not the most effective as assessed by those completing the survey. Conversely, less widespread programs receive higher marks.

Particularly striking is the fact that while "adopt-a-school" programs are cited as the most prevalent, they are also judged the least effective. The term, "effective," within the context of the survey, underscores the relationship between support provided to schools and outcomes expected by corporations.

One reason for the poor marks given to "adopt-a-school" programs could be that they are normally designed around the convenience of school and corporate managers. If a youngster is enrolled in a particular school, he or she is often offered only the resources of the adopting corporation for that particular school. Consequently, a student interested in mathematics and computer science assigned to a school "adopted" by the Museum of Art is not necessarily going to benefit from the arrangement. Likewise, teachers tend to work best with corporate "adopters" with specialties in their areas of interest.

           AREAS OF PARTICIPATION.................. EFFECTIVENESS LEVEL

           Internships ..........................................  6.64
           Academic skill training ..............................  5.62
           Career planning ......................................  5.33
           School site miscellaneous assistance .................  5.22
           Scholarships .........................................  5.17
           Program grants .......................................  4.81
           Volunteerism .........................................  4.79
           Mentorships ..........................................  4.75
           Equipment grants .....................................  4.67
           Adopt-a-school .......................................  4.60

* Respondents were asked to provide an assessment of program effectiveness by noting their assessment on a scale from 1 to 7, with "7" being greater effectiveness and "1" being lesser effectiveness.

It would appear that the "return on investment" is unclear. "Adopt- a-school" programs may not have been linked effectively to the objectives of the businesses involved and to human resource strategic planning process. For whatever reason, respondents judge them as less effective than other kinds of school partnership programs. This suggests there is a need to more carefully target corporate "adopt-a-school" educational resources to more clearly meet corporate goals and to assess the impact of those resources.

The effectiveness rating of internships is equally striking but for different reasons. Although relatively small in number among respondents, internships get consistently high marks. Perhaps this is because most internships are carefully constructed and monitored, with goals and outcomes measures which are generally consistent. Another difference might be that internships generally focus on college or at least secondary school-age students who are usually more interested in the world of work.

This suggests that all school/business partnership programs need to be equally carefully constructed and monitored in order to earn high marks with human resource professionals. Is the partnership producing measurable differences in student achievement and attitude? Can student achievement and attitude be measured against corporate objectives? In what way are partnership programs addressing corporate manpower needs?

These questions suggest the need for an approach which measures educational outcomes and relates those outcomes to strategic objectives. Respondents think so, too.

Slightly over half (52.5 percent) do not believe there is presently a relationship between their company's school/business partnership program(s) and the company's strategic business plan. Although this figure may seem high, we believe it is significantly lower than that of corporate executives or even human resource professionals in general. The fact that nearly half see a relationship may be attributable to the activist nature of the respondents.

Additionally, over half (52.5 percent) report their companies do not evaluate the effect of school partnerships in the employment of entry level personnel. Here, too, we would be surprised if anything approaching 40 percent of the companies in general have any formal evaluation program. We know that a number of the respondents have pressed for evaluation within their companies. Finally, 60 percent relate that their companies do not evaluate student achievement or attitude changes which result from company participation in school partnerships.

Moving to the Future

It would appear that, for a large proportion of corporations represented in the survey, financial resources are allocated to support partnerships with little attention to measuring outcomes of the investment. Moreover, many corporations have no one responsible for looking at the total picture of school philanthropy. Various divisions and other business units frequently overlap funding unknowingly. Further, individual school units may garner support from more than one unit of the corporation without the corporation being aware of these multiple inroads.

Programs need to be evaluated to reflect desired strategic outcomes:

  • Are program goals clear and measurable?
  • Are these goals attainable?
  • Does the corporation understand these goals?
  • Do the schools understand these goals?
  • Does the organizational structure of the program contribute to goal attainment? If not, why not?
  • Are personnel adequate to assure goal attainment?
  • Do program outcomes reflect stated goals?
  • Are resources sufficient?
  • Can program outcomes be measured?
  • How can program features be changed to enhance outcomes measurement?
  • Can program resources be combined with other resources to enhance results?
  • Can the program be replicated?
  • Does the program have the capacity for self-improvement and adaptation in the face of environmental changes?

On the positive side, many respondents report that indeed student achievement is evaluated (40 percent), evaluation of school partnerships does play a part in the employment of entry-level personnel (47.5 percent), and there is a relationship between the company's business objectives and its school partnership involvement (47.5 percent). Evidence from this side of the house suggests that certain companies of the respondents may increasingly be sensitive to the need to invest in and measure the results of their school partnership investments.

William L. Bainbridge and Steven M. Sundre are principals of SchoolMatch, a consulting firm assisting businesses with school information and program evaluation, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio.

The SchoolMatch database is used to assist in the family recruitment process and to evaluate philanthropic outcomes.