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Report offers guidance for university-community partnerships in urban areas

April 04, 2019

University-based economic development practitioners seeking to improve their relationships with urban areas have a new resource guide available to them, thanks to research from the Thriving Cities Lab at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. The lab offers guidance for colleges and universities and in its Field Guide for Urban University-Community Partnerships, authors Joshua Yates and Michaela Accardi conduct three interrelated analyses.  First, their report looks at 100 urban colleges and universities with a focus on how they interact with their home cities. Second, they cluster universities into five-distinct groups based on the types of strategies and activities they employ related to community partnerships. Based on this analysis, the authors highlight best practices at universities across the country, with a focus on specific outcomes, challenges experienced, and lessons learned, and conclude with a stepwise framework to assist colleges and universities, as well as recommendations for practitioners to make the most of these findings.

In the first section of the report, the authors find that nearly three-fourths of the 100 universities studied have a mission statement that emphasizes public service and that 95 percent have central offices dedicated to community engagement. On average, these central offices were roughly 18 years old. Although 92 percent of urban universities have an academic commitment to community engagement, just 59 percent have an anchor commitment to their communities. Meanwhile, 6 percent have no commitments to community engagement.

The second part of the report uses an exploratory cluster analysis to group universities across five distinct categories, each based on their combination of community outreach strategies. The categories identified are:

  1. Universities with a central office, but no core pedagogy/course offerings;
  2. Universities with both a central office and core pedagogy/course offerings;
  3. Universities with a central office, core pedagogy/course offerings, and strategic plan commitment;
  4. Universities with a central office, core pedagogy/course offerings, strategic plan commitment, and community-based research funding;
  5. Universities with work in all categories—a central office, core pedagogy/course offerings, strategic plan commitment, community-based research funding, and a governance ,structure inclusive of community members; and,
  6. Outlier universities that did not fit with the other cluster variations.

More than half (55) of the universities studied are in clusters four and five, which suggests that common engagement activities include central offices, standardized course pedagogies, strategic plan commitments, and community-based research funding. The cluster analysis also found that it was relatively rare for universities to include community members in decision-making or governance structures.

Finally, the third section of the report focuses on best practices that were identified in the national survey of urban university-community partnerships. Each of these “snapshots” includes a brief synopsis of particularly innovative activities, as well as critical lessons learned and challenges encountered in these efforts. Examples highlighted in the report include local hiring/purchasing at Johns Hopkins, a redesign of core curriculum at Butler University, and two efforts at the University of Utah – one focused on place-based, community driven partnerships, and another that funds community-based research.  

The report is available to download here, while an additional summary is available at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

higher ed