Reimagining workforce development: Creating innovative pathways to online learning through corporate partnerships

Concurrent Session 3

Brief Abstract

While employers look for a more skilled workforce, individuals are struggling with the rising cost of a college degree. Educators, this is our time to shine! Come learn about our solution-driven partnership with a local business that is transforming lives through our innovative approach to online learning. 


Kerri French-Nelson (she/her) is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at the University of Memphis, where she serves as Coordinator for Prep Academy, UofM Global’s online pre-college program for corporate partnership students. She is currently a doctoral student in Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Education and holds degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro, and Boston University. She is the author of Every Room in the Body (Moon City Press, 2017), winner of the 2016 Moon City Poetry Award and the North Carolina Poetry Society’s 2018 Brockman-Campbell Book Award.

Extended Abstract


It’s no secret that employment rates and retention have fallen across many industries in the US, leaving employers burdened by chronic short staffing. Employers are looking for more skills and qualifications than ever before, but many individuals simply cannot afford the rising cost of education. Thus, enrollment rates among institutions of higher education have remained stagnant or fallen in the past several years. Although tuition costs present a significant barrier, individuals are in desperate need of the economic advantages of earning a degree. Therefore, many job-seekers are looking for employers with expanded benefit packages that include education assistance. These ingredients call for a solution-driven collaboration between employers and educators.

During this presentation you will hear about a partnership between a business and University that has advanced education among our local workforce with opportunities connected to career experiences, that overcome educational barriers, and are supportive of lifelong learning. This partnership addressed workforce retention challenges head-on by creating a custom degree initiative that prioritizes employees’ needs. We help employees overcome the most common barriers to education (finances, admission requirements, academic readiness, convenience, and technology), so they can focus on achieving their academic and professional goals. The results have exceeded our expectations with positive outcomes for everyone involved: the business has seen reduced employee attrition, University enrollment has grown, and employees are making progress towards earning their college degree.     

We invite you to reimagine workforce development through creating innovative pathways to online learning and building partnerships with your hometown businesses. Together, we have a unique opportunity to transform individual lives and positively impact our community.

Level of Participation

The Discovery Session is a great way of sharing our new approach to online education through a meaningful dialogue with attendees who are interested in creating similar types of corporate partnerships. This session type will allow us to provide a broad overview of our topic, followed by in-depth one-on-one conversations. Our presentation will include concise yet informative slides, handouts with supplemental information, and of course some fun SWAG.


Attendees will learn (1) how to create alternative pathways to admission and enhance college readiness, (2) how to leverage the affordances of online learning to overcome common challenges of working adults, (3) how to utilize cost-effective tools to expedite degree completion, and (4) how to build their own successful corporate partnership programs.