How to Overcome the 5 Most Critical Barriers to Scaling High-Impact Experiential Learning Programs at Higher-Education Institutions

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Written by Jordan Levy

We surveyed administrators from over 50 institutions around the globe, and almost all of them unanimously agreed that experiential learning is a fundamental part of graduating prepared professionals. Empowering students by connecting them with employers through experiential learning engagements provides them with an opportunity to collaborate with real companies while exploring their interests and applying course concepts to real-world challenges. Through these meaningful, hands-on collaborations, students are able to practice working in teams, building key relationships, and solving complex challenges – all skills that are crucial for early career success.


While students st and to gain confidence and job-ready skills through experiential learning engagements, including Live Business Cases, Capstones, Co-Ops, and Site Visits, overcoming the numerous roadblocks of implementing large-scale experiential learning programs in universities is a main reason why most students are still graduating confused, in debt, and without the necessary skills and experience to excel in their career from day one. 


We believe that by blending internal champions with the right external tools and services, any school can build and scale programs that include experiential learning as a mainstream part of the undergraduate or graduate degree experience. 


CapSource is proud to have guided over 40 different higher-learning institutions around the globe to-date through our various products and services, and we are eager to share our best practices with you!


Below is an overview of the most common challenges we’ve experienced when it comes to launching and scaling programs that integrate industry third-parties (like local companies, non-profits, and large corporates) into the education process. 


Challenge #1: Faculty members are resistant to change and often lack experience mentoring students through experiential learning engagements.


Experiential learning is a big shift in pedagogy. We encourage institutions to integrate these high-fidelity, complex learning experiences directly into the curriculum. When designed correctly, these engagements should align course learning objectives with company goals so that everyone wins. 


Faculty, serving as mentors, play a key role in ensuring teaching goals are met and that projects run smoothly. Unfortunately, most university educators aren’t trained to serve as this type of liaison. Mentoring students as they sort through messy, real-world challenges is difficult and requires a whole new model for teaching.


As schools make this transition, we recommend the following options to encourage high-caliber participation from faculty: 


  • INCENTIVES: Often schools will provide faculty with course releases, bonus compensation, and other benefits for taking on the added responsibility of an experiential learning course.
  • ALIGNMENT: We try to match company projects with course learning objectives AND faculty research interests to create a more engaging experience for educators.
  • TRAINING: Specialized training can be really motivating ( and fun)! CapSource offers an Experiential Learning EFFECTIVENESS INSTITUTE, which is a fully custom one-week virtual training program for faculty designed by experiential learning delivery expert, Terri Albert

Challenge #2: Building and managing relationships with host companies can be burdensome and very time consuming. 


Faculty have a lot on their plates and often understandably don’t have time to run through the “sales process” of prospecting companies and converting them into projects for their courses. The networking and vetting required to find an appropriate partner for an experiential learning engagement can take 5-25 hours per company, especially without an existing process or reference materials. Not to mention, the consequential and essential next step of scoping engagements that align course learning objectives with company goals can take a lot of time as well, which makes assembling these experiences quite burdensome, especially without an existing framework and templates.


If universities rely exclusively on decentralized faculty connections for developing experiential learning partnerships, there are many risks, including:


  • When key contacts leave, programs are not transferable
  • It’s difficult to organize and track key contacts and company relationships
  • It’s more challenging to measure success and market programs to prospective companies and students
  • It’s impossible to scale programs without reusing the same companies in new and innovative ways
  • Employer intake and project design can be confusing, inconsistent, and inefficient 

Our Company Sourcing & Instructional Design service allows our clients to scale experiential learning on-dem and. We are experts in finding company matches given narrow academic requirements and maintain a constantly growing network of 179 vetted partner companies that are prepared to collaborate immediately through project-based experiential learning engagements. All of our company matches include a project charter, which serves as an engagement overview and learning contract between student, company, faculty, and institution, which makes getting started with experiential learning easier than ever before.


Challenge #3: Experiential learning is not coordinated centrally, which makes it less efficient for educators and more confusing for interested employers. 


Higher education institutions are notorious for their decentralized structure. Most schools do not have a centralized department or even a single point of contact to help coordinate and encourage experiential learning across campus. Thus, sourcing companies, designing projects, and managing experiential learning engagements can be really tough to scale. 


CapSource is helping schools organize and scale their experiential learning ecosystem by providing them with access to a customizable, centralized tool to source, design, and manage engagements with industry third-parties. 


Our new platform, CapSource CONNECT, allows schools to build and manage company relationships while efficiently and effectively designing project-based learning engagements. 


CONNECT provides schools (like SUNY Potsdam) with the perfect suite of tools to help educators and administrators organize their experiential learning engagements. By leveraging CONNECT as a custom-br anded version of our platform, schools can centrally manage host company relationships, promote available opportunities to internal and external stakeholders, and design project scopes based on custom ENGAGEMENT FORMATS and TEMPLATES. It also allows schools to build and maintain their own company network, serving as light CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) with specialized engagement design capabilities.


Challenge #4: It’s difficult to prepare students and companies; it can also be a challenge to keep them engaged.


Similar to faculty members who may not have worked with companies before, it’s also likely that companies haven’t worked with students and institutions in this capacity before. By leveraging CapSource’s products and services, we can help ensure companies are prepared throughout every step of the engagement such as finalizing the scope and schedule, organizing legal paperwork, managing expectations, and providing guidance through project completion. Although faculty and students work directly with company contacts throughout the experiential learning engagement, CapSource’s framework and best practices help ensure the best chance of success by making sure everyone is as prepared as possible for the experience before it launches.


Companies and faculty members aren’t the only ones who need to be prepared for experiential learning!  What about preparing students for a hands-on learning experiences


Without excited students, it’s hard to keep companies engaged. It’s crucial to explain to students that these engagements are different from other courses and that there’s real stakeholders expecting real outcomes as part of this engagement. We often encourage faculty and administrators to showcase how successfully completing these projects can be a resume booster and a topic to discuss on interviews. 


Since most students have little to no professional experience to draw from, it’s crucial to ensure they fully understand expectations. 


Here are some recommendations to help you keep all parties engaged throughout the experience:


  • Check-in often, provide feedback, and hold all stakeholders accountable!
  • Design a clear scope and stick to it!  It’s hard to measure student success if the goal posts are constantly moving
  • Meet virtually (or in-person if possible) at least every two weeks.  Remind the students that this is real and that the company cares about the outcomes

Challenge #5: FUNDING! 


Funding is always a challenge in higher education. We always encourage schools to look at experiential learning programs as a potentially revenue-generating opportunity ( and thus an investment in the future of the institution) rather than a costly program to implement. 

Some key costs to consider are:

  • Faculty incentives 
  • Faculty ( and student) training 
  • Company sourcing
  • Project design
  • Project management and survey tools
  • Web conferencing and communication tools
  • Travel and logistics

Although there are real, significant expenses required to set up a well-oiled experiential learning program, some of the most successful schools have been able to generate revenue in excess of operating and set-up costs. For example, William & Mary and Carnegie Mellon are able to generate hundreds of thous ands of dollars for their institution each year through their highly effective industry-focused learning programs. When students are successful in delivering valuable outcomes to alumni and/or local organizations, it’s easy to encourage participating companies to pay small tax deductible fees to support the institution and participate in programs. 


It’s certainly worth mentioning that no school is able to charge for these engagements in their inaugural years. In some cases, it may take 2-10 years to reach a point where an experiential learning program is effective enough to charge companies to participate. There are a lot of resources that go into building and maintaining experiential learning partnerships. Adding a pay-wall to first-time users can make securing company partnerships difficult or even impossible. Once schools are able to develop a proven track record of success, that’s when we typically encourage schools to begin exploring paid company partnerships.


To cover costs to get programs started, we always recommend exploring program-level budgets, innovative teaching grants, and other forms of state/federal funding. 


By leveraging CapSource, we can help keep a school’s internal headcount down and build effective programs in a cost-effective way. We’re also proud to be scaling various programs as well, including the University of Notre Dame, slowly transitioning them to CapSource CONNECT so they can begin managing their relationships and experiential learning process internally. 



Want to learn more?

Download our Getting Started Checklist and explore the 7 key steps to building scalable experiential learning programs.

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Register for CapSource and start planning your experiential learning engagement today! 

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