Kicking Off a College Partnership in 4 Steps

Every student you support is attending a college that will have an outsized impact on their path to a degree. As a college success advisor, imagine what would be possible if you had a direct line to those colleges. What if you could pick up the phone to make a warm hand-off, or coordinate on programming for the semester? What if you could serve as a partner to those colleges to ensure students receive the support they need to reach graduation?

Through a college partnership, all these possibilities are within reach. Ready to take the first step? Keep reading to learn more about how to build relationships on campus and lay the foundation for a successful and lasting partnership.

Step 1: Introduce yourself and request a meeting.

When you think about a college partnership, your mind might go straight to whiteboards, strategic planning, and lawyers reviewing agreements. But remember to take things one step at a time. In fact, creating a meaningful partnership starts with one simple email. After identifying a potential contact on campus, reach out to request a meeting where you can share more about your organization and what you hope to achieve through a collaboration. And if the person you have reached can’t make the partnership happen, ask them to put you in touch with the person who can.

Your organization may be one of many looking to partner with a college, so be prepared to highlight your differentiators. Perhaps a significant proportion of your students attend the college, or you have unique insight into a particular type of student they serve. Make the case for how your proposed partnership will help the college deliver on its own mission.

Step 2: Show your commitment.

In the words of our partners at Persist Nashville, “Showing up goes a long way.” When the college success organization was just getting started, they reached out to a local community college about an upcoming FAFSA event and offered to bring pizza and help students complete their applications. Later, when their directors were invited to a strategic planning meeting, they offered to gather the notes and send around afterwards. Right off the bat, the organization demonstrated its ability and willingness to help its college partners get the job done. Today, the relationship has blossomed into a robust partnership advancing the goals of both partners and the success of the students they share.

Step 3: Keep the conversation going.

As you begin to establish a relationship, find opportunities to keep in touch and ensure your program is top of mind. Ask how your team can help with their upcoming programming. Share a report with relevant insights from annual surveys and request any ideas they may have to improve your support model. Get a regular meeting on the calendar and build a sense of ownership in your shared goals. Maintaining a partnership begins with constant communication, and these ongoing conversations will also help you deepen your relationships on campus and collaborate more effectively.

Step 4: Collaborate toward your shared goals.

College partnerships can take many forms, from identifying go-to contacts on campus to developing a shared vision for student success. As you’re getting started, one idea to consider is collaborating on programming and events. Invite the college’s financial aid representatives to your next FAFSA workshop, or present a webinar on stress management with their mental health center. Through this approach, your team can explore the parameters of your partnership, learn more about the resources available on campus, and build relationships across the institution.

In time, you may consider formalizing your partnership if that adds value for your program. For example, this may be the right approach if you have a significant proportion of your students represented at a certain college. A formal partnership can also build continuity and shared accountability in case of staff turnover. Through a formalized agreement, college success programs can gain greater insight into decision-making, better support the institution’s goals, and earn a seat at the table when it comes to student support strategies.

Getting a new partnership off the ground takes time and commitment, but it’s a worthwhile investment that will strengthen the support system available to your students during their time in college. Together, college success programs and institutions will be more effective in developing programming, identifying and addressing any gaps, and helping students persist through graduation. Sometimes, taking the first step is the hardest part.