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The Road Half Traveled UNIVERSITY ENGAGEMENT AT A CROSSROADS
By Rita Axelroth Hodges Steve Dubb
Michigan State University Press Copyright © 2012 Rita Axelroth Hodges and Steve Dubb
All right reserved.
Chapter One Brief History of Universities, Community Partnerships, and Economic Development
Universities, in addition to their central role in education, playa critical economic development role. Nowhere has the connection between higher education and economic development been more clearly drawn than in the United States. This link was made explicit in 1862 when Congress passed the Morrill Act, establishing a system of land-grant colleges by allocating federal land to the states to support the establishment of public universities in each state. As James Collier of Virginia Tech notes, while the Morrill Act certainly served to expand access to university education, its "primary goal was to solidify the American economic infrastructure in anticipation of the Civil War's outcome." Senator Justin Smith Morrill (R-VT) himself, in calling upon Congress to pass the Land-Grant Act, argued that land-grant colleges not only would provide education for the "sons of toil," but would also speed growth in agriculture, "the foundation of all present and future prosperity."
Historically, community partnership work has not been as visible in U.S. higher education as economic development, but it too has deep historical roots? On the university end, one of the most obvious areas is the development of cooperative extension. Cooperative extension, from its founding, has been a program that supports a university-linked system of information transmission from state "land-grant" colleges and universities to the populace through a network of professional "extension agents" who provide public and outreach services. Cooperative extension continues to this day. Presently, extension offices exist in every county in the United States and employ over 15,000 people. Although cooperative extension is often seen as only dealing with rural areas, its impact has been far broader. An early innovator was the state of Wisconsin, which initiated its statewide cooperative extension program under the leadership of famed progressive activist Governor Robert La Follette, years before the federal government passed the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, setting aside federal funding for cooperative extension programs in every state. For example, in 1908, Extension Division programs in Wisconsin were conducted for urban schoolchildren and adults in a public health effort aimed at preventing tuberculosis; the following year, Extension Division professors helped Milwaukee conduct an economic survey of the city, "including studies of industrial hygiene and education, working conditions, hospitals, municipal health and sanitation problems."
On the community-initiated end, the settlement house movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also was an early initiator of what today might be called university-community partnership work. In its most frequent form, a settlement house was a building in a poor community that was used as a community center. Settlement houses taught literacy and urban survival skills to immigrants and rural migrants and helped organize tenants to secure better housing. Although settlement houses started off campus, university students often lived in the facilities and frequently provided much of the settlement houses' staffing. Hull House, organized by Jane Addams in partnership with the University of Chicago, is one of the best known of these efforts. Addams, in particular, succeeded in getting prominent support for Hull House at the University of Chicago, among both the university administration and the faculty. It was also the University of Chicago's first president, William Rainey Harper, who declared that the university should be the "Messiah of the democracy, its to-be-expected deliverer." And of course it was as a faculty member at the University of Chicago where the philosopher John Dewey first developed his theories of "learning by doing" and experiential education.
For a variety of reasons, the prominence of university-community partnerships and university economic development activity declined in the first half of the twentieth century. The reasons are not hard to discern: agriculture, once the foundation of "all" prosperity (in Morrill's words) became less significant, as the United States became a primarily urban and metropolitan country and many land-grant colleges largely failed to shift the focus of their cooperative extension work to reflect the changing economy and growing urbanization. Also, the issues of rural-urban migration and immigration from abroad that had led to the settlement house movement in the first place subsided, as immigration laws restricted entry to the United States. Moreover, universities became increasingly linked to the federal government, especially through military research contracts, which made local community economic development activity relatively less important to universities.
But then circumstances changed again. The roots of today's generation of community-university partnerships can be traced to the late 1960s, when activist academics began to insert community work into university curricula. Robert Sigmon and William Ramsey of the Southern Regional Education Board coined the term "service-learning" in 1967 to describe the work of university students and faculty on a Tennessee Valley Authority project in East Tennessee conducted by Oak Ridge Associated Universities in partnership with tributary area organizations.
As service-learning grew, it developed a strong antipoverty cast. Michael Lounsbury of Cornell University and Seth Pollack, director of the Service Learning Institute at California State University Monterey Bay, write, "While the practitioners had different origins, they were united in the belief that students could be productive foot soldiers in the war on poverty." Federal funds helped promote this work through the National Student Volunteer Program (established in 1969 by President Richard Nixon and renamed the National Center for Service-Learning in 1979) and the federal volunteer office, ACTION. The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980 soon led to the end of federal support for these programs. Nonetheless, after this initial setback, service-learning in the 1980s rebounded, as advocates placed new emphasis on the academic benefits for college students, while deemphasizing activism. This shift was critical in gaining the bipartisan support that led President George H. W. Bush to sign a bill restoring federal funding to service-learning in 1990, legislation that was expanded when President Bill Clinton came to office in 1993. A decade later, service-learning had become ubiquitous, with the advocacy group Campus Compact estimating in 2004 that 98 percent of its 1,000-plus member campuses offered service-learning courses.
Meanwhile, the federal government also played a key role in encouraging the reconnection of universities to local economic growth. Specifically, in 1980, Congress passed the Bayh-Dole Act, which helped bring about a large expansion of university local economic development activity by enabling universities to profit from their professors' discoveries. From 1980 to 2000, the number of patents issued to universities increased from an average of 250 a year to 3,000 a year. Many have criticized Bayh-Dole for commercializing the university, but there is no doubt about its extraordinary economic impact. A 1999 study of the Association of University Technology Managers found that university technology-transfer activities contributed $40 billion to the U.S. economy and helped support 270,000 jobs nationwide.
In the 1990s, community partnership activity received a considerable boost, as a combination of factors led a number of universities to begin developing more broad-based strategies. One of these factors was the end of the Cold War, which brought with it at least the prospect of declining military contracts. In this environment, faculty members who could add value to the university in a different way gained more clout. More broadly, the end of the Cold War promised, at least for a time, the possibility that the university would become less focused on federal research attuned to national goals and more focused onto cal research attuned to meeting statewide or community goals. Modest federal support also helped spur university engagement initiatives, such as establishment of the Office of University Partnerships (OUP) at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1994. OUP grew to have an annual budget that peaked at slightly over $33 million. Additionally, roughly one-quarter of the Learn and Serve America program's budget (or about $10 million a year) supported university service-learning programs. The Department of Commerce also has a small University Centers program in the Economic Development Administration: average funding in the 2000s was about $6.5 million a year.
More urgency, too, was given to the potential benefits of community partnerships when a national wave of urban crime, spurred in large measure by the spread of crack cocaine in the late 1980s, hit major U.S. cities. Meanwhile, federal funding for social service programs had been severely cut during the Reagan administration. Conditions in America's urban core grew more desperate. One indicator is the murder rate. For example, in New Haven, homicides nearly tripled, rising from twelve in 1985 to thirty-four in 1991. In Philadelphia, homicides also climbed rapidly, growing from 273 in 1985 to a peak of 503 in 1990. Nationally, the urban concentration of violent crime reached record levels: in 1991, the seven most populous cities in the United States alone accounted for more than one-fourth of all homicides nationwide.
In response, a growing number of universities decided that they literally could not afford to ignore the deteriorating conditions surrounding their campuses without risking driving away the students and faculty on whom their stature ultimately depended. Two of the universities profiled here, Penn and Yale, are very explicit in acknowledging the critical role public safety issues (including specific instances of murder) played in how they developed their initiatives. In other cases, such as Cincinnati, general neighborhood deterioration and perception of crime spurred a similar university response.
Lee Benson, Ira Harkavy, and John Puckett of the University of Pennsylvania highlight (albeit more diplomatically) the importance of these factors in their book, Dewey's Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform: "In the aftermath of the cold war, accelerating external and internal pressures forced research universities to recognize (very reluctantly) that they must—and could—function as moral/ intellectual institutions simultaneously engaged in advancing universal knowledge, learning and improving the well-being of their local geographic communities (i.e. the local ecological systems that powerfully affect their own health and functioning)." Although Benson and his colleagues refer specifically to research universities, this movement has taken hold in higher education institutions of all sizes and sorts. As a result, in the mid-1990s, community partnership centers began blossoming on a number of campuses across the country—centralized units that could galvanize and manage vast resources and programs being directed to the community. Partnership centers helped coordinate otherwise disparate community efforts, occasionally leading to comprehensive university engagement strategies.
Heading into the twenty-first century, a new and deeper understanding of the importance of the role of universities in community economic development began to emerge, leading many universities to greatly expand their community partnership efforts—this time, less out of a sense of crisis than out of an appreciation of the opportunity an anchor institution strategy provides. Many of the institutions profiled here, including Emory, Syracuse, Portland State, IUPUL and Minnesota were not faced with an immediate crisis, but chose to act anyway. As noted later, such efforts typically do not involve the same level of resources as those of university "crisis response" strategies, but often, likely due in part to the lack of an immediate threat, these partnerships do a better job of taking into account community concerns in the framing and agenda-setting of their initiatives.
As has been true since the Morrill Act, economic and educational motives remain intertwined. In terms of economics, while hardly true of all metropolitan areas, a number of American cities began to rebound after decades of decline. Indeed, efforts such as Yale's in New Haven and Penn's in West Philadelphia are part of a broader trend of urban revival. For example, the nation's capital, Washington, DC, after decades of population decline, saw its population rise by nearly 30,000 to over 600,000 from 2000 to 2010. The fact that urban problems began to seem not quite as "intractable" was buttressed by the increasing realization—borne out both by practical examples such as the early efforts at Penn and Yale, as well as by academic research—that universities, acting in their economic capacity as anchor institutions, could make a powerful, positive contribution to social and economic outcomes.
A number of studies have highlighted this critical university role. In 2002, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City and CEOs for Cities discussed this untapped potential: "Despite their considerable size, colleges and universities are often an overlooked component of urban economies. Their impact on these economies can be enormous. More than half of all colleges and universities in the nation are located in the urban core: central cities and their immediate surroundings. They have significant purchasing power, attract substantial revenues for their surrounding economies, invest heavily in local real estate and infrastructure, are major employers, and help to train the workforce and nurture new businesses." Nationwide, America's 4,000 colleges and universities spend more than $400 billion annually, own more than $300 billion in endowment investments, and employ roughly three million faculty and staff. As David Perry of the University of Illinois at Chicago and David Cox of the University of Memphis write, "Urban universities are spending up to a quarter of a trillion on salaries, goods and services, which is more than 20 times what the federal government spends in cities on jobs and economic development." David Maurrasse, in a 2007 report for CEOs for Cities, argued that anchor institutions such as universities have "special importance to the re-making of a city and its future."
The term "anchor institution" itself, which once would have surely received blank stares from university leaders, now is regularly a part of university president discourse. In 2007 and 2008, more than three dozen university presidents came together to form the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, which seeks to promote university engagement in K-12 public schools, community health outreach, and community economic development. In 2009, a number of university presidents—namely, Nancy Cantor of Syracuse University, Gerard Clancy of the University of Oklahoma at Tulsa, Eduardo Padron of Miami Dade College, Beverly Tatum of Spelman College, and Wim Wiewel of Portland State University—joined with more than a dozen community partnership leaders and researchers to submit a report to HUD secretary Shaun Donovan that, as referenced in the introduction, called on the federal government to help forge a "new compact between government, anchor institutions and their communities" to leverage university resources to meet the needs of urban communities. This group, dubbed the Anchor Institutions Task Force, decided in 2010 to formalize its status as an independent entity of practitioners and leading experts in anchor institution-community partnerships.
University trade associations have also taken note of these developments. For example, in April 2009, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) named Muriel Howard as its president. Howard, who hails from the urban campus of Buffalo State College, where she was president from 1996 to 2009, quickly moved to reestablish the group's urban steering committee. The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) has created a new Office on Urban Initiatives and, in June 2010, appointed its first vice president of urban affairs to direct the new office.
The growth of this anchor institution movement has also gained a great deal of academic support. Leading scholars of the 1990s (including Derek Bok, Ernest Boyer, and John W. Gardner) helped to build the argument that by strategically focusing their many resources—from academic programs and research to business practices—on locally identified problems, universities can improve their core intellectual and academic work, in part by giving students and faculty real-world experience that can inform both research and teaching. Boyer, for instance, offered a new definition of scholarship. His "scholarship of engagement" has four functions: discovery, integration of knowledge, teaching, and application. Boyer's definition has been widely adopted—meaning that many community partnerships (a form of application) are now part of the definition of the university's central educational mission. Gardner, who served as secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson, and as president of the Carnegie Corporation, called for government to facilitate new forms of interaction between all sectors of society (public, private and nonprofit), including higher education institutions, to strengthen families and communities. Building on both of these ideas, Bok, who served as Harvard's president from 1971 to 1991, sharply criticized universities for not doing enough to help solve America's most urgent social problems. He urged academic leaders, foundations, and government to work together to encourage universities "to respond effectively to the full agenda of national needs."
Excerpted from The Road Half Traveled by Rita Axelroth Hodges Steve Dubb Copyright © 2012 by Rita Axelroth Hodges and Steve Dubb. Excerpted by permission of Michigan State University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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