Power of partnership: Collaboration expands STEM opportunities & increases graduates

The Austin Community College District and Rackspace Hosting are entering a new public-private partnership that represents the future of higher education. The partnership between the college and Rackspace, managed cloud specialists, will create new opportunities for students in a high-demand field, enhance the college’s technology training, and ultimately help ensure a pipeline of skilled workers for the region. In turn, Rackspace, one of the region’s top employers, will set up its offices at the college’s “campus of tomorrow” and benefit from proximity to ACC. This is a unique agreement that promises to revolutionize how institutions of higher education and private industry can work together and thrive.

A rendering of the renovation for the Rackspace facility. (Image courtesy of Gensler)

The partnership will come to fruition at ACC Highland, formerly known as Highland Mall—one of Austin’s first malls, which went into steep decline as the nature of retail changed. The college purchased the mall site and began redeveloping it into a center for innovative learning. Recognizing that ACC would not need the entire space (1.2 million square feet in all) for some time, the college sought a partner organization that aligns with the community college mission to lease a four-story, 194,000-square-foot space once occupied by Dillard’s. The ACC-Rackspace partnership was born, with the final contract expected to be executed this year.

For Rackspace, the partnership allows ample space for its operations. The company will move 570 employees to ACC Highland in late 2015 and expand in the future—in a reinvigorated part of Central Texas that enjoys convenient rail and bus access as well as contiguity to major roadways. But it’s not just a logistical win for Rackspace. With its strong commitment to education, Rackspace will flourish in this academic and career training setting.

This kind of public-private partnership is a key aspect of what makes ACC Highland a new model for higher education. By bringing the college’s industry partners on site, students can be immersed in their field of choice from the start, with real-world experiences enhancing what happens in the classroom. This venture takes the traditional concept of the internship and grows it to encompass the entire academic and career training process.

Academic Benefits

  • Scholarships – Rackspace will fund full-tuition scholarships based on areas of interest, need, and diversity.
  • Curriculum Enhancement – Rackspace will identify subject matter experts among its employees, known as Rackers, to advise on curriculum choices and methods.
  • Rackers in the Classroom – Rackspace will work with ACC to provide guest lecturers and adjunct instructors.
  • Rackspace Dojo – Rackspace will partner with ACC to provide a real-time break-fix simulator to train students in technical support and operations.
  • Public Space – Rackspace will designate a portion of its facility to accommodate public meet-ups for tech and user group organizations.
  • Faculty Development Rackspace will provide continuing education for ACC faculty.

Career Development

  • Tech Internships – Rackspace will provide internships, including earn-while-you-learn opportunities.
  • Development Internships – The development team will provide internships in development/construction and design during the building renovation process.
  • On-Campus Recruiting – Rackspace will conduct at least one on-campus career fair per year.
  • Mentorship Program – Rackspace will identify employees to serve as mentors to students in a variety of areas.
  • Continuing Education – ACC and Rackspace will partner to create curriculum for the college’s Continuing Education Division, for working professionals interested in career advancement.

Collaborations of this nature are especially essential in STEM fields, with the rapidity at which technology evolves. Through this agreement, ACC’s curriculum and offerings will remain on the leading edge of developments in the information technology sector. Meanwhile, Rackspace ensures a new generation of tech workers with the skills and training in demand by today’s employers. These benefits are all critical to reversing the nation’s STEM skills gap.

This is an innovative partnership that can and should be replicated across the country. Institutions of higher education must strengthen and expand their relationships with business and industry, and private industry must look for opportunities to share knowledge with higher education. Considerations for this kind of partnership include:

  • Logistical needs – Can the institutions co-locate? Proximity enriches this kind of collaboration.
  • Education needs – How will the industry partner contribute to the educational experience? How can we make this partnership deeper and significantly change how students learn?
  • Business needs – In what ways will the business partner benefit? Does it make financial sense?
  • Legal needs – What laws govern public-private partnerships in the state in which the institutions are located? Who will take the lead in drafting the contract?

While the ACC-Rackspace agreement represents a new level of partnership, the college has a four-decade track record of successfully working with regional business and industry to enhance education. In the years to come, both ACC and Rackspace will search for ways to make the partnership even more productive and further accelerate growth of the STEM workforce.

Back to Top