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May 13, 2008

Richard Florida

Town/ Gown

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Karin Fisher has this detailed report on partnerships between how smaller colleges adn their communities in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Old mill towns and declining manufacturing centers, in the Rust Belt's former company towns and in the rural South, small, private liberal-arts institutions like King's are assuming a greater responsibility for community and economic development. They and their alumni are raising money to purchase abandoned buildings. They are relocating college facilities, like bookstores and residence halls, to buoy up urban cores. They are working to better connect faculty experts with local entrepreneurs ...

But unlike research universities and land-grant institutions, which have long viewed regional economic development as central to their missions, most liberal-arts colleges are relative newcomers to this work, and they face real constraints. In contrast to powerhouse institutions like the University of Pennsylvania, which is largely credited with remaking West Philadelphia, these smaller colleges may not have the wealth to make upfront investments or to absorb the risk incurred in such deals.

The modest size of their endowments ... mean that money spent on community projects must also benefit those on the campus. Faculty members are often expected to carry heavy teaching loads, leaving them with little time or inclination to engage in economic-development efforts. In addition, small colleges typically lack the administrative structure to support such efforts.


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I've always found these little liberal arts colleges in the middle of nowhere USA kinda weird and out of place. It also seems like everyone associated with the schools often wants little to do with the town in which they are situated.

Friends who went to these schools could often tell me nothing about the town(s) nearby -- they never went there.

I interviewed for a faculty job at a liberal arts college (very quickly it was obvious we were a bad fit). All the faculty interviewing me seemed to do was talk about getting away. They promoted what was available 2 hours away in the nearest big city. They basically hinted that they spent all their time trying to forget they were in this town, or waiting for school breaks so they could leave. We always drove at least 45 minutes for meals (or ate in the cafeteria), rather than eat an interview dinner at a diner in town.

Contributing to the communities in which they are situated -- and becoming a part of them -- would benefit everyone.

Zoe B

The sorts of liberal arts colleges that Wendy is talking about seem to follow the old western tradition of the cloister. Students and their teachers are supposed to study eternal truths in a community separated from the outside world. No wonder they located in isolated places. But there are other educational models to follow.

Savannah College of Art and Design is credited with reviving historic Savannah. Rather than focusing on a central campus, the school has restored historic buildings scattered around the downtown area. The lack of a border between campus and town has made the whole area feel lively.

Savannah is not an isolated midwestern town. It's a historically important East Coast port, with a lovely beach and other tourist sites nearby. But it is a highly conservative place. The city could have been hostile to the arty types imported by the school, yet they found a common ground: the beauty of the historic area.

Land grant universities offer another form of interaction with the larger community. Their extension services have encouraged scientists to interact with rural people. Extension services explicitly seek a common ground with the larger community.

Our local university has found a number of ways to mix up town and gown. Design and policy classes (particularly at the 400 level) have used a local problem as the focus for a class project. These projects are required to be of an exploratory nature - to make a more valuable learning experience for the student, as well as to avoid taking business away from local professionals. Also, students are an important work force for local charitable organizations, from raising money on street corners to lay counseling at the local abuse shelter. Our town depends upon them for more than filling the bars.

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