Innovative ways that four-year colleges engage in their communities
February 8, 2010 10:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of innovative and creative ways that liberal arts colleges are engaging in the economic and civic development of their local communities - and becoming institutions that really matter to the places where they're located, in addition to the wider educational community.

I'm working on a project in which a flagship university is helping smaller, four-year colleges develop the resources and connections to meaningfully engage in economic issues that are important to their local communities. I've found lots of stuff on why civic engagement and experiential learning are important for a liberal arts education - all good, but largely non-geographically grounded. That is, it could happen anywhere - there is little rationale for how it could be, or why it should be, undertaken in a way that strategically connects to the needs and priorities of the local community. I've also found lots of stuff on how important colleges and universities can be for economic development, but usually because of tech transfer, technically trained graduates, etc.

I am looking for examples that connect the two. So it's not only "students benefit from civic engagement, go volunteer at one of these places," nor is it only "what does this institution do for our economic development prospects." Rather, it's examples in which a college makes a concerted effort to put its resources to work in a way that both furthers the educational goals of its students and connects to a specific goal that's related to the local community's economic welfare, through real engagement with the community. Part of the premise here is that the college thinks of itself as mattering not just in the world of education, but to the town, county, or region where it's located.

Sorry for the length here - when I've been thinking about something for a long time, I begin to doubt whether I'm really communicating it to anyone else! Thanks for any examples or suggestions that you may have.
posted by Betsy Vane to Education (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Tufts University's Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service fits the bill pretty well. Some students do focus their projects outside of the local community, but there's generally a pretty strong push to stay local (especially for environmental, health, and educational initiatives).
posted by oinopaponton at 10:46 AM on February 8, 2010

Stopped by to point out Tufts as well. Quite amazing how much they do.
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:03 AM on February 8, 2010

Alma mater plug: the University of Minnesota-Morris does pretty impressive outreach work with towns in rural Minnesota. The Center for Small Towns pairs undergraduate students with community organizations to do research and outreach on a variety of topics - for example, during my time there I worked on a regional trails inventory for a regional GIS/transportation project, and I also helped analyze renewable energy viability for the region. Economic redevelopment and local foods projects have been common project themes recently.

Their website lists pretty much everything you'd need to know, from student projects by year to info about their annual symposium. The campus also offers a bunch of other service learning opportunities.
posted by Maarika at 1:14 PM on February 8, 2010

And here's my alma mater plug: the University of British Columbia in Vancouver runs a program called Humanities 101 where marginalized, low-income residents of the Downtown East Side and surrounding area (Canada's poorest postal code) can take non-credit university level courses for free. The students also receive bus passes, meal vouchers, and child care in order to facilitate their attendance and participation. The point of the program is to build critical thinking and learning skills in low-income/street involved people who, if they are offered any educational programs at all, are traditionally offered vocational/skills training.

I was a volunteer teacher at a Humanities 101-type program, and I could see how life-changing it was for the students. It sounds corny, but I could literally watch as their minds opened. Part of it, the students told us later, was that for once they were being treated as though they were intelligent, that their opinions mattered, and that they were capable of debate and discussion. One of our graduates went on to get her high school diploma and is now doing a Bachelor of Social Work degree.

[Note: Although it is different in content and criteria, the Humanities 101 program was originally inspired by the Clemente Course developed by Earl Shorris to run in New York City's Lower East Side.]
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:25 PM on February 8, 2010

Grinnell College's Center for Prairie Studies might be of interest too.
posted by carrienation at 8:23 AM on February 9, 2010

I know my alma mater, Oglethorpe University (liberal arts college in Atlanta, focus on undergraduate education) has started a program like this, has a Center for Civic Engagement, and awards scholarships to civic engagement scholars. However, I am really not very well versed in this topic at all, especially since this movement started after I attended. So I'm just going to link to their website and hope it helps explain the program some. Hope it helps.
posted by NikitaNikita at 8:44 PM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone for these great leads. I'm still organizing my thinking about how to group these and other examples into a few core models, so I'm reading up on everything you all gave me and just seeing what it all looks like. I"m especially intrigued by the stuff on the smaller liberal arts colleges, because they tend to be left out of the discussion of the connection between higher ed and ED. Also the Humanities 101 is a great lead because most of the models I've looked at have to do with the college sending its resources out into the community in some way; this program is blurring the lines between college and community in a way that sounds like it could blur the distinctions between those who can live some sort of life of the mind and those who are effectively shut out of it. Which would be the ultimate college-community partnership.

Thanks again to all of you, I really appreciate it! I'm not going to mark this "resolved" just yet though in case there are any more gems out there.
posted by Betsy Vane at 2:21 AM on February 11, 2010

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