The Carnegie Foundation defines community engagement as “the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity. The purpose of community engagement is the partnership of college and university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good.”
A great definition, but how do cash-strapped, resource-deficient institutions achieve these goals?
The natural fit is through extended education. On the whole, we spend much more time with businesses and organizations within the community. We also pride ourselves on being the innovative or entrepreneurial arm of the university, yet when it comes to outreach, much of the time we are following the university’s lead in community engagement.
Here are four important reasons why the extended education departments of your university should be leading the relationship:
1. Catalyst for Positive Change
Just having a seat at the table can say a lot to your community. Our extended education unit is actively involved in the business and leadership organizations within our geographic area. This not only allows us to understand the business community needs, but also to be part of the solution.
This is an area in which most universities struggle. By reaching out to underserved groups and the non-profit organizations that work with them, we can provide assistance for what is their (sometimes) first glimpse into the world of higher education. Designing programs that can provide a benefit to these students can put them on a path to lifelong learning that can elevate their lives and the life of the community. But that is just one component. The other is what we can learn from these communities: how we can be better at what we do and how we do it. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has a very useful report on Universities and disadvantaged communities.
3. Incubator for Innovation
There is no doubt these are tumultuous times. We also know during economic downturns and disruption, there are opportunities. It is usually during these times our greatest advancements are made. The university has a responsibility to promote and foster innovation and act as that 21st century partner by working with all of these groups to provide a safe and purposeful place to foster innovative ways to address the new reality of this century.
The traditional university paradigm is looking more and more irrelevant to our communities. The seeming lack of ability to address and correct these deficiencies has been the rallying cries for detractors who say the university as we know it is dead. This is premature but not without merit. The university can be relevant, and the most obvious place for this is through extended education. Being given the freedom to act as a true partner can result in solutions for organizations they may never have thought of.
Many extended education units feel their hands are tied through a slow-moving bureaucracy or continued lack of funding. Here are a few ways extended education departments can maximize their impact:
1. Become a Connector
Put the people together who can make a difference. Most universities have connections in the local community, but have you ever connected the dots for them and brought them to the table for a working meeting? Consider bringing small groups together from diverse backgrounds to work through problems. By acting as the power broker, you are providing a tremendous service to your community.
You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can partner with those who have strengths in areas where you are weak. We partner with community colleges, state colleges and universities and private education providers. We understand the new reality is lifelong learners who receive education from a variety of sources. Our philosophy is to always focus on what is best for the student.
The 21st century relationship looks more like collaboration than a fact-finding opportunity to understand which new programs to build. We have as much to learn about the new realities of our communities as they have to learn from our institutional research and programs. How we approach our collaborations will have as much to do with success as what we contribute.
You Might Also Like: