Edited by Carole Schweitzer
Nearly everywhere you look, colleges and universities are stepping up their game when it comes to regional collaborations. Whether it’s to increase community resilience in the face of natural disasters, revive lagging or disrupted economies, or provide skills needed in the surrounding workforce, institutions are brainstorming with civic and business leaders to boost town-gown relationships to a whole new level.
Take Indiana State University, Terre Haute, for example. Recently ranked nationally as No. 1 in public service by Washington Monthly, the university supports the Center for Community Engagement, connecting campus staff, students, and faculty to its host city in various ways. The center coordinates opportunities for faculty and students to learn and serve with community partners throughout the Wabash Valley and beyond.
Participants are encouraged to apply, through the center, for approval to volunteer for eligible hands-on services. Activities range from delivering meals to the homes of older adults and assisting with the physical maintenance of a community center, to teaching a CPR class, and even counseling a crime victim. Staff may receive paid leave for such activities, in the amount of up to 15 hours per fiscal year.
Meanwhile, Houston Community College opened its new campus in Missouri City with the central goal of bridging the gap to affordable higher education in the region. “This campus is the product of a cooperative partnership between HCC and governmental and business leaders,” says Cesar Maldonado, the college’s chancellor. “Together we will work to ensure that student success is achieved here at this campus.”
The $21 million, 69,340-square-foot campus, which opened in August 2017, is also home to the HCC Center for Entrepreneurship, Technology, and Health and was specifically built to support economic growth within the surrounding area. Neeta Sane, HCC Board of Trustees member representing District VII, noted that the new campus can help revitalize the community by training an educated workforce. For its part, Missouri City leaders plan to invest $2 million to develop the area around the campus. Projects include a skate park, green space for picnics, a veteran’s memorial, and a theater for the arts.
In another example, the University of California Merced launched in October 2016 a four-year project that will nearly double the physical capacity of the campus by 2020. The project will be the first in the UC System to use a single private development team to design and build all the new facilities as a single, fast-track project; the developer is also responsible for raising all required private financing as part of the public-private partnership.
UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland notes that the university’s expansion will significantly strengthen its capacity to achieve its critical mission as the first UC campus in the San Joaquin Valley: To increase college-going rates within the region’s highly diverse, largely underserved population, while serving as a powerful engine of economic development.
The campus has already pumped more than $1.3 billion into the regional economy, since startup operations began in 1999. The new project is expected to create more than 10,000 construction jobs in the San Joaquin Valley during the four-year construction period, with a one-time economic benefit of $1.9 billion.
Such multifaceted collaborations take on many forms. The following case studies describe in detail the University of Florida’s work in spearheading civic and business collaboration on sweeping regional improvements in the Gainesville area; and the efforts of Columbus State Community College to partner with multiple local educators to work in concert on increasing college success for Central Ohio students, while positioning the region as a leader in economic growth, per capita income, and quality of life.
These kinds of stories help to underscore the value of higher education to the community, students, and society overall—and to encourage legislators, business leaders, and the public to support access to colleges and universities for the benefits they offer to society and to individuals.
By Charles Lane
In university towns like Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, it can be difficult to see where the university ends and the city begins. With their own streets, sidewalks, housing, and police force, many of our universities become like small cities themselves, often outgrowing or overpowering their host communities. In some cases, universities can become leviathans, so big that they lose their place in their community and forget how important the community is to them—and how important they are to that community.
The University of Florida is an enormous public, land-grant, 1,000-building university sitting on 2,000 acres of lush Florida land, with a student population of about 54,000, in a city of 130,000 people. It is Gainesville’s largest employer, and often the focal point of the city’s attention.
But in 2014, when I arrived at the university, there seemed to be a disconnect between the sprawling, beautiful campus and some of the city streets around it that housed tired, aging retail space and bars. While the city and the university are intricately linked economically and geographically, the two entities worked completely separately to foster and manage growth. For quite some time, we had not been actively inviting the city into our world to make decisions about how we could coexist.
It was time to work together. In December 2014, we reviewed our campus master plan with UF’s board of trustees, and board members encouraged us to take a more holistic view of development, creating a plan that would embrace the city of Gainesville rather than ignore it. The resulting project became UF’s Strategic Development Plan, which includes a 50-year campus plan that is mindful of our host city.
Mapping a Process
Broadly, the task of strategic planning for the next 40 to 50 years involved exploring the campus’ physical layout and creating a plan for growth that would support UF’s drive to become a top-10 university, with an eye toward creative urban planning. To accomplish this effectively, we needed to strengthen the university’s connection to the community by breaking down campus barriers, both literally and metaphorically, and win support from community stakeholders.
We worked with two consulting firms with architectural and infrastructure planning experience to help us gauge needs and develop plans. We formed a steering committee that included members of both the UF and Gainesville communities. Some city leaders were hesitant to get involved at first, but we invited the city manager to serve on the steering committee, and soon they were very interested.
Over a nine-month period in 2016, we undertook a three-phase plan to create the Strategic Development Plan.
Phase I. The steering committee and consultant team collected data about the physical and cultural environment of the university in the context of its community.
Phase II. We developed three objectives to guide the planning process:
1. Re-center Gainesville’s growth and development in and around downtown, where the university meets the city, to improve overall vibrancy.
2. Unite Gainesville’s communities and the university to strengthen the community as a whole.
3. Sustain the community by promoting social, personal, economic, and ecological health to enable long-term success for the university and the city.
Phase III. This step included refining all our ideas into four initiatives, each with corresponding action items for the university. The plan focuses on four themes:
- Proximity. Collaboration is a key ingredient of top research and innovation. By creating an environment where our scholars—and our citizens—have proximity to one another, we can better define meaningful open spaces and foster successful interactions. Our plan calls for us to focus development in key areas that will maximize opportunities for collaboration, on and off campus.
- Strong neighborhoods. This theme speaks to the university’s need to listen to and support great neighborhoods that surround the campus. It’s important to work with these neighborhoods to collaborate in the creation of pride of place in all directions, developing strong east-west and north-south corridors that connect UF with the community.
- Stewardship. UF is proud of its land-grant heritage. Recognizing that Gainesville’s abundant outdoor amenities knit the campus and community together, the university must promote the stewardship of its physical environment. Creating the right infrastructure backbone will enable success for the city and campus.
- New American City. This is the component that ties the other themes together. Every city has its challenges, and the idea of the New American City suggests using the resources within our own city to work together to tackle those problems. UF and Gainesville aim to become a laboratory for the exploration of solutions to the United States’ most pressing societal issues, whether grounded in health, food, housing, transit, schools, technology, arts, or culture.
When the steering committee presented the plan to the university’s board of trustees, the board endorsed it unanimously. In December 2016, UF announced its commitment to the strategic plan and its intention to formalize a partnership with the city of Gainesville.
Partnering for the Long Term
In announcing the strategic plan, the university also designated seed money to start funding some of the plan’s projects. In April 2017, Florida awarded more than $300,000 in research awards for projects that connect UF resources with important community issues such as transportation, health care, and economic disparity.
For instance, one recipient of a research award studied the best ways to help disadvantaged people who want to start a business, and is now implementing programs to help them. Another project researched the public’s acceptance of autonomous vehicle technology, and a new autonomous shuttle soon will be operating in the downtown and university areas. Another project is working to understand why people call 911 in non-emergency situations and provide other options to ease traffic to our paramedic services. All these projects, along with other research programs funded by the seed money, are using our local resources and expertise to solve our local challenges. That’s the definition of the New American City.
The university also designated $50,000 for a partnership between the College of Arts and City Arts Initiative that will help sponsor arts in the community. In one of the first arts projects sponsored by that grant, an internationally acclaimed artist unveiled a light projection of the Tree of Life displayed on a live oak tree in Innovation Square in November 2017.
Also in 2017, the university signed a memorandum of understanding with the city of Gainesville, calling for a larger joint-planning group to continue the work of the strategic plan. Our city may have felt disregarded in decisions being made about the university in the past, but today, we’re working harder than ever to reconnect the university and its host city in ways that will benefit both of us.
The University of Florida may be only about 18 months into a 50-year development plan, but we’re already seeing the fruits of our efforts. Relationships between the local community and the university are more positive, collaborative, and productive than ever before, and there is an almost palpable sense that we are all working toward shared goals. University leaders have learned that four essential attitudes have been transformative in helping achieve such a positive relationship with community stakeholders. They include:
- Transparency. Florida has “sunshine laws” that ensure a certain level of transparency from public institutions, but we went even further than what was required. We communicated with the campus and Gainesville communities each step of the way, from announcing the planning process in the local paper to holding a series of public meetings—some of which required particularly thick skin. We also hosted an open symposium featuring experts from other universities to hear about their own similar projects, an exercise that was invaluable. We shared new developments with stakeholders and the community at large.
Naturally, there were some in the community who were dubious about the plan, but the transparency of the process won over some of the early naysayers and made others even more supportive simply because they were included.
- Attentiveness. In addition to soliciting feedback from our steering committee and from the general public, we conducted more than 100 interviews with approximately 200 members of the UF and Gainesville communities. This allowed residents to let their voices be heard. Some components of the plan were direct results of these valuable conversations.
- Receptivity. Initially, we envisioned a plan that focused almost exclusively on physical development on and around the UF campus. But our consultants helped us to think outside the box. Their input, combined with listening to community voices, helped us see that the plan had the potential to encompass much more than building heights and locations. We welcomed the feedback and were happy that we were able to expand the plan to address important local and national issues as part of our goals.
- Respect. Concerns of gentrification, blandification, and generally losing a place’s sense of character are quickly raised by some in a plan like this. Like those concerned citizens, we also didn’t want to see these things happen. We took steps to ensure that this plan would respect the character of Gainesville and the traditions that are already in place.
CHARLES LANE is senior vice president and chief operating officer at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Learn more about UF’s strategic development plan and its initiatives at strategicdevelopment.ufl.edu.
All for One
By Nancy Mann Jackson
No other city in the United States is home to as many Fortune 500 companies as Columbus, Ohio, although the region ranks just 32nd in population size. Central Ohio’s rich industrial mix includes manufacturing, science and technology, business services, logistics, and international business—and all of them need a talented workforce to continue thriving.
Nearly two of every three jobs in the state of Ohio will eventually require post–high school education, but less than half the working-age population holds a postsecondary certificate or degree. Between 2007 and 2014, the number of Central Ohio jobs requiring a postsecondary credential grew three times faster than overall job growth. Businesses in the region will need to fill 134,740 new jobs between 2012 and 2022.
To meet the needs of the local economy and prepare more Central Ohio residents for the current and future job market, Columbus State Community College launched and is leading the Central Ohio Compact, a large-scale collaborative effort with nine local universities as well as K–12 school districts.
Understanding the Need
In 2010, when David Harrison moved to Ohio to become the new president at Columbus State Community College (CSCC), the issues of workforce and education levels were at the forefront of local conversations. “Columbus is a big college town, but many of the local universities had gotten more and more selective, and fewer and fewer local grads were getting in,” says Harrison.
In addition, a report had just been released about the high rates of remediation needed for local students when they got to college. “That report was top of mind in my discussions with K–12 leaders, and I was struck by the fact that people weren’t defensive about it; they were just focused on what we were going to do about the problem,” Harrison says. “It became clear there was an appetite for deeper collaboration.”
In April 2011, Columbus State Community College hosted a meeting of 200 local educators, ranging from K–12 to college and university leaders, to discuss whether there was a case for a regional partnership. It became clear that the answer was yes: By working together, the various institutions could develop long-term pathways for local students to prepare for college and careers and eventually fill the needs of local employers. As a result, the Central Ohio Compact was born.
As the convener of the compact, Columbus State has hosted a regional summit each year since 2011, bringing together public and private college and university presidents, school superintendents, college, and K–12 faculty and staff. Eventually, those summits also began to include workforce and economic development professionals, government officials, and social services professionals. The shared goal is to bring about a dramatic increase in college success for Central Ohio students and position the region as a leader in economic growth, per-capita income, and quality of life.
From the beginning, the compact has been sharply focused on college readiness and on learners’ transitions from both high school and the workplace, into the postsecondary experiences that can make a difference in their lives. The group established a strategy and authored a joint resolution that focuses its members on its essential goals. Today, those goals include:
- Advocate for policy and practices that galvanize collaboration to make college affordable for everyone. Strong policy can be the difference between college affordability and deep, long-lasting debt or, for some, a decision that college is out of reach entirely. The compact promotes policies that make it easier for students to pursue and obtain the education they need.
- Engage employers to develop a regional workforce strategy. Successful pilots have demonstrated the capacity for K–12, higher education, and industry partners to build programs that move students seamlessly from high school to college to the workplace, jump-starting promising careers and filling critical workforce roles.
- Mobilize the community to address nonacademic barriers for students. As the Columbus region becomes increasingly diverse, so do the needs of its students. The area serves more than ever before geographically and racially diverse students, who are more likely to juggle school and work. A substantial number approach the prospect of college as first-generation students whose families are unequipped to provide support that can ensure good outcomes. A community that finds ways to provide that support will have solved a critical challenge on the path to greater degree attainment.
- Pursue a meaningful data exchange that focuses on student success. Seizing upon the momentum that has resulted in recent wins, the region must push further to ensure that the compatibility of tracking systems is a benefit rather than a hindrance to student success.
Building a Program
To jump-start the compact initiatives, the Columbus State Community College Foundation secured a $5 million, five-year grant from the American Electric Power Foundation. With that money, the organization launched “Credits Count,” a program for high school students, in five Columbus city high schools and middle schools that feed into them. The Credits Count program works with students and their families to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, introducing students to careers they may otherwise never have considered as options.
Along the way, Credits Count helps students fill in learning gaps, so that they are ready to study college-level courses while still in high school. By graduation, participating students have earned credits that count toward a certificate in a STEM-related career or toward a college degree in fields like information technology. When the program started, Columbus State was serving a few hundred high school students. Today, that number is approaching 5,000, Harrison says.
After Columbus State’s success with Credits Count, the compact has adopted the program and replicated it through seven school districts that serve low-income students. “We have high school teachers, counselors, and employers all involved, in the same room,” Harrison says. “We have been able to scale quickly because we already have these partnerships in place.”
In addition to the initial $5 million grant, the compact obtained funding from JPMorgan Chase’s New Skills at Work program and, in 2015, a grant for $11.5 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Education. With this continued funding, the compact continues to replicate its successful programs in schools and colleges across the region and form additional partnerships to help address other needs.
Another successful compact program is “Preferred Pathways,” a 2+2 program that combines two years at Columbus State with two years at one of nine participating baccalaureate institutions in the region. Through pathway agreements with the nine Preferred Pathway Partners, students can “pre-major” at Columbus State for the degree they want at a four-year institution. Through the program, they are guaranteed admission to the partner institution.
“The program has elevated the associate’s degree as a transfer credential, and we’ve seen that students who earn an associate’s degree before transferring are much more likely to earn their bachelor’s degree, and in less time,” Harrison says. “It’s become a simplified way for students to complete a bachelor’s degree with little or no debt.”
By adopting a regional approach, the Central Ohio Compact has created a model of collaboration that has been noticed nationally—and influenced Ohio legislators. In recent years, influenced by the intentions and success of the compact, Ohio state policy has undergone significant changes; for instance, 100 percent of state funding for community colleges is now based on performance rather than enrollment. Recently enacted policies incentivize community colleges and baccalaureate institutions to focus on the 2+2 formula, and allow high school students to complete college coursework at no cost to families. “In recent years, Ohio state education policy has been progressive, right on point with the compact,” Harrison says.
As the compact has made progress in meeting academic goals, its partners have continued to understand the urgency of meeting nonacademic needs as well. “It’s becoming even clearer that students are not meeting their college and career goals because of finances,” Harrison says.
To remedy the situation, the compact’s leaders are partnering with social services agencies to develop resources. For instance, the area’s largest food bank is working with compact institutions to minimize food insecurity among students. Transportation is also a challenge for many students, and compact leaders are working with local agencies to provide more options. “The nonacademic partnerships aren’t as fully developed, but we have a lot of community assets that haven’t been fully deployed yet,” Harrison says.
For instance, Columbus State is using some funds from the U.S. Department of Education’s i3 grant to create a care plan with local social services agencies, so that students and families know what’s available to them. Because the same issues exist at every school in the region, this plan will serve as a pilot program that can be deployed throughout the area.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do; we’re always looking at the students we’re not reaching, even though we’re glad we have some momentum,” Harrison says. “Having a partnership in place gives you confidence that you can take on other big, messy problems and do it collectively. That’s really the promise of the Central Ohio Compact.”
NANCY MANN JACKSON covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.
Telling Your Story
The sweeping initiatives of the University of Florida and the Central Ohio Compact are just two of countless other success stories in which colleges and universities contribute value to their local communities. At the same time, the current level of doubt about the value of college permeates many discussions across the country. In fact, many people are questioning whether going to college is even worth it.
As Sandy Baum, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, Washington, D.C., writes in “The Value of a Lifetime,” in June 2016 Business Officer, “The reality is that as tuition prices have risen in an economy where few people see their earnings rising faster than the prices of goods and services, and as student debt has captured the imagination of the press and the public … [asking whether college is worth it] is … a fair question.”
Baum goes on to note that data solidly underscore higher education’s value. “After all, as college and university administrators, we are aware of several significant facts:
- College graduates earn significantly more than high school graduates.
- Many rewarding occupations require a two-year or a four-year degree.
- A variety of factors—including health, longevity, satisfaction with work, and civic engagement—are correlated with levels of educational attainment.”
And, while “the simple truth is that the vast majority of people will be better off if they go to college than if they don’t, that answer is no longer sufficient. Being able to provide the evidence about the average payoff of a college education remains central. It’s also important to understand the variation in the postsecondary paths available to students in this country and the range of outcomes that students experience.”
Business officers are uniquely positioned to articulate to students, communities, and employers the value of their institutions—as Charles Lane tells the University of Florida story in this article. Mary Lou Merkt, vice president for finance and administration at Furman University, Greenville, S.C., and outgoing chair of the NACUBO Board of Directors, notes in the article “Symbiotic Systems,” in October 2016 Business Officer, “Most people in Greenville probably don’t know about all the Furman programs that provide services, improve education, and put economic value back into the community—maybe because we’re unnecessarily humble about them.” Merkt, who chaired NACUBO’s Value of Colleges and Universities Committee, also says, “Often an institution has to go on the defensive when someone questions whether it’s a good citizen. It’s better to be in an offensive mode.”
In the same article, Ben Crutcher, then associate vice president of auxiliary services, University of Kentucky, Lexington, agrees that improving public awareness of community value is critical, particularly during periods of state budget-cutting and highly publicized tuition increases. “How our institutions touch the community,” says Crutcher, “is probably the best-kept secret of higher education.”
To help institutions get the word out about the significant contributions that they make to their communities and to society overall, NACUBO’s Value of Higher Education initiative aims to counter the negative discourse surrounding the value of higher education, promote its myriad benefits, and shape public opinion toward a more positive perception of its contribution.
To get the word out about your institution’s valuable work, go to www.nacubo.org/advocacy/value-of-higher-education to find communication tools—including infographics, success stories, and fact sheets—for your use in developing opinion and editorial pieces, presentations, or interviews with the media.
CAROLE SCHWEITZER is editor in chief, Business Officer.