Arizona covers less than 1 percent of the budget for the Maricopa Community College District. The 10-college system, which enrolls 265,000 students, now receives an annual state contribution of $8 million.
One upside to Arizona’s near-complete disinvestment in its community colleges, Maricopa’s leaders say, is that the years of budget cuts  have forced the two-year system to get more entrepreneurial. They are particularly excited about the money-making potential of the new Maricopa Corporate College , which landed Marriott International as a client in its first year of existence.
One reason for the college's early success, said Rufus Glasper, the district’s chancellor, is that corporate CEOs have picked up on a shift at Maricopa.
“We’re starting to market ourselves as a business,” he said.
Corporate colleges cater to the training needs of companies, including recent hires and workers who need to learn new skills. Programs are typically non-credit and customized based on the employer’s needs. They can be online or in person, and taught either on a college campus or taken directly to a company. Some of the most common programs are in management training, English as a second language, information technology, advanced manufacturing and welding.
The training centers can be lucrative, with companies typically footing the bill rather than students. As a result, the corporate-college field is getting more crowded. For-profit chains have long done job training. And Udacity, an online course provider, now wants to get in the game .
Several community colleges also have a solid track record with corporate training. Experts said Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), located in Ohio, North Carolina’s Central Piedmont College and the Lone Star College System in Texas are pioneers of corporate colleges.
Yet two-year institutions face a challenge in competing for corporate clients that have a national footprint. The colleges typically have a strong regional focus, and struggle to deliver training outside of their locale.
That’s where Global Corporate College comes in. The consortium  of more than 50 community colleges, which is a Tri-C spin-off, allows institutions to cross state and even international borders with their training centers.
The consortium formed in 2007. Denise Reading, who formerly led the corporate college at Tri-C, is president of Global Corporate. She said the idea was hatched when Tri-C was unable to meet the training needs of the Eaton Corporation, an Ohio-based power company with 100,000 employees spread all over the country and around the world.
Reading said company officials told her “come back and see me” when Tri-C could reach all of the far-flung Eaton employees. So the college decided to create a separate, nonprofit consortium.
“If you can’t help the biggest companies in your region, what good are you?” she said.
Tapping a Market
Maricopa is a member of the group. Officials at the district said the connection is a big part of the draw for their 20 corporate clients .
The price varies depending on the range of training companies need. And members of the consortium share revenue for programs that multiple colleges help run.
“We have sold to Marriott,” said Eugene Giovannini, president of the Maricopa Corporate College. “The network will deliver that training across the country.”
Giovannini and Glasper are confident that the new college will bring in money.
After studying the possibility of creating a corporate campus, Maricopa estimated that the district was tapping less than 20 percent of its possible job-training business. Over the next few years they hope to triple the $1.5 million in corporate training revenue they earned in a recent year. The college also offers consulting services to companies.
College officials aren’t shy about talking up the fiscal potential of the Corporate College. It’s part of the privatization of Maricopa, which is beyond their control. The community colleges have a solid product to offer, they said, so they are getting into the sales game.
“This is very much a business decision,” said Giovannini.
More to Come
Speed isn’t higher education’s strength, particularly when it comes to creating new academic tracks. But corporations expect quick results with training programs.
As a result, Global Corporate College requires its members to adhere to a 72-hour turnaround when getting a proposal to a potential client.
Maricopa’s new corporate college is a separate, freestanding entity. It currently draws on faculty members and curriculums from Maricopa's other campuses. The college is not accredited, because it does not offer credit-bearing courses. However, if a company is interested in college credits for its employees, Maricopa can route those students to their other colleges.
The corporate college is attractive to businesses in part because it provides a single point of contact in the sprawling district, Giovannini said.
“We had 10 colleges all trying to do the same thing,” he said, adding that now there is “one voice.”
Maricopa has had success with corporate training in the past. For example, Safeway, the grocery store chain, has partnered with GateWay Community College for a decade, as well as with other Maricopa campuses.
However, Giovannini said a deal like the one Maricopa inked with Marriott would not have been possible without the scale of the Global Corporate College.
More two-year colleges around the country are likely to follow the lead of the 50 in the consortium by expanding their corporate training. A key reason, experts said, is declining state support.
Some community colleges continue to “struggle with the notion of extending beyond community service to embrace ‘for profit’ activities,” Stewart Sutin, a clinical professor at the University of Pittsburgh and former president of the Community College of Allegheny County, said via email.
But that resistance is waning, he said, as more colleges add entrepreneurial, revenue-generating programs. “This trend is apt to accelerate as state funding for community colleges fails to keep pace with needs."