Corporate university

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A corporate university is any educational entity that is a strategic tool designed to assist its parent organization in achieving its goals by conducting activities that foster individual and organizational learning and knowledge.[1] Corporate universities (CU) are a growing trend in corporations. In 1993, corporate universities existed in only 400 companies. By 2001, this number had increased to 2,000, including Walt Disney, Boeing, and Motorola.[2]

In most cases, corporate universities are not universities in the strict sense of the word. The traditional university is an educational institution which grants both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in a variety of subjects, as well as conducting original scientific research. In contrast, a corporate university typically limits scope to providing job-specific, indeed company-specific, training for the managerial personnel of the parent corporation. Corporate universities are most commonly found in the United States, a nation which has no official legal definition of the term "university". Perhaps the best known corporate university is the Hamburger University operated by McDonald's Corporation in Chicago.

Typical goals of a corporate university[edit]

Corporate universities are set up for a variety of reasons, but most organizations have the same basic needs. These are to:[2]

  • Bring a common culture, loyalty, and belonging to a company
  • Get the most out of the investment in education
  • Organize training
  • Remain competitive in today's economy
  • Retain employees
  • Start and support change in the organization

CUs offer valuable training and education to employees, but they also help organizations retain and promote key employees. Although a CU may sound attractive, there is a lot of work that goes into the planning and implementation of such a project.

Planning for a CU[edit]

Before planning a CU a corporation should conduct a full learning audit and assessment, a series of design workshops, the creation of a business case and recommendations to senior management, implementation, and finally, further recommendations and review.[2] One of the most important goals is to ensure that the project has support from the CEO down.

There are ten steps to implementing and sustaining a successful corporate university. These steps are:[3]

  1. Executives or top management of an organization must form a governing body for the corporate university, much like that of a traditional university, which will establish and profess the organization's commitment to the program.
  2. The vision or strategic plan of the corporate university must be crafted; thereby,determining the organization's goals for the program.
  3. The organization must then recommend a funding strategy. Most commonly, corporate universities are either funded through corporate allocations or through charges placed on individual business unit budgets.
  4. Next the organization must determine its audience or stakeholders who will use the corporate university service.
  5. In addition to determining the audience, the organization must also determine how the needs of the audience will be met while continually pursuing the strategic goal of the corporate university.
  6. Following the completion of the above tasks, corporate university organizers must develop a template for how products and services will be designed to achieve university goals.
  7. The organization must also select suppliers, consultants, traditional universities and for-profit firms who will act as learning partners, if appropriate.
  8. The use of technology and resources to be used by the corporate university must then be determined.
  9. Additionally, a measurement system should be developed that will allow the organization to continually monitor its progress against the university's strategic goals.
  10. Lastly, the governing body must communicate the vision of the corporate university constantly and consistently. All stakeholders should be made aware of the mission, products and programs that make up their organization's corporate university.

These steps may need to be tweaked to align with the size or goals of your organization. CUs can be outsourced to a consulting firm or planned and implemented in house. It is a growing trend for organizations to partner with traditional universities. A traditional university brings organization, structure, and faculty. Universities are often interested in CU opportunities because of the economic gain. There are a number of consulting firms that will help you to set up you Corporate University, but that can become very expensive. This process can also take a long time, sometimes up to a two years. Forming a cross functional team of business stakeholders can be used to launch the corporate university.[3]


J.P. Morgan and Co. is an example of a company with an organized curriculum.[4] They have three different types of courses: Business specific courses, organizational learning and communication classes, and management and executive training. What your company decides to offer will depend on your needs (such as sales training, marketing, or soft skills) and your company's business (like manufacturing, consulting, or technology).

Most CUs offer a blended curriculum of online and in person classes. Some organizations offer courses during the workday while other offer them at varying times. Courses can be short workshops or longer, more traditional courses.

Unlike traditional universities, CUs demand a return on their investment. There must be concrete evidence that the classroom is delivering results. Many CUs provide hands-on and team learning as a more effective alternative to lecture-based courses, but all CUs agree that what is learned in the classroom should be directly applicable to the work environment.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Allen, Mark (2002). The Corporate University Handbook. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-8144-0711-0. 
  2. ^ a b c Hearn, Denise R. (2002-05-10). "Education in the Workplace: An Examination of Corporate University Models". Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  3. ^ a b Meister, Jeanne C. (1998). Corporate Universities: Lessons in Building a World-class Work Force. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-7863-0787-6. 
  4. ^ Tanner, Lisa (2003-07-25). "Corporate university approach taking hold". Dallas Business Journal. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 


  • Renaud-Coulon, Annick (2008). Corporate Universities, a lever of Corporate Responsibility. GlobalCCU Publisher. ISBN 978-2-9531667-0-5. 
  • Paton, Rob; Geoff Peters; John Storey; Scott Taylor (2005). Handbook of Corporate University Development: Managing Strategic Learning Initiatives in Public and Private Domains. Gower Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 978-0-566-08583-3.