2015 Eastern Region Campus Compact Conference Review
Moving Us Forward: At the Intersection of Community Engagement and Collective Impact
By Hillary Kane and Eden Kainer
This fall, PHENND’s VISTA project manager Eden Kainer and I attended the Eastern Region Campus Compact (ERCC) conference to discuss collective impact as a tool for social change. Campus Compact is a national organization made up of college presidents who are committed to advancing the public purpose of institutes of higher education by deepening their capacity for positively engaging with their surrounding communities and their commitment to educating students to become engaged and responsible citizens. There are currently 34 state Campus Compacts; the ERCC was a conference held for affiliated campuses and other interested parties from along the eastern seaboard, with campuses from New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania most heavily represented.
After more than 20 years of the “engaged campus” movement, of which service-learning and community partnerships are key strategies, many faculty and administrators (not to mention students and community partners) are asking, “Now what?” Now that we’ve been doing this work for a long time, what do we have to show for it and how can we take it to the next level? This conference was an attempt to answer those deeper questions by situating our work in campus-community partnership in the context of collective impact.
Collective impact is a strategy that has gained a significant amount of attention in recent years. Since the publication of a now well-known article in the Stanford Social Innovation Journal, “Collective Impact,” the term collective impact has drawn intense attention from philanthropy, the non-profit sector, government, and even business. Collective impact is commonly defined as a strategy to solve complex social problems with five inter-related attributes: well defined outcomes, continuous communication, shared data, mutually-reinforcing activities, and a backbone organization. To set the stage, Jeff Edmondson from the Strive Network led an energetic and engaging plenary session on the theoretical framework of collective impact and invited us to think of specific examples where we thought collective impact was happening, or where it could potentially happen.
This made us think of PHENND and the VISTA project. Currently, PHENND is a non-profit network (in the language of Strive) that has spawned some “multi-stakeholder partnerships” such as our VISTA project. As we envision our VISTAs as baby steps toward a full-blown community schools site director; we also envision the overall project as baby steps toward a collective impact initiative focusing on the success and happiness of our city’s school children. In some ways, we want each of our VISTAs to serve as a mini-backbone for their schools. They are bringing multiple stakeholders already involved with the school as partners to the table at regular meetings to discuss the goals and priorities of school leadership as well as community needs. They are helping to share data across partners (to the extent allowed by the District) and they are distributing newsletters to promote good communication. Initially, the VISTAs are often just identifying who should be at the table; who is already providing service to kids in the building and/or who would like to. Mapping the various activities is an initial task; down the road we hope to get to the place where partners begin to think about how those activities can be “mutually-reinforcing.”
One of the framing questions for the conference was: What innovative ideas are advancing higher education’s community engagement practices? Thus some sessions explored collective impact initiatives with a particular eye toward the role of higher education institutions. In some cases, institutions of higher education played the role of the backbone organization, the group that convenes the meetings, brings people to the table, facilitates the data sharing and continuous communication, and helps the many stakeholders come together around the common objectives. For example, the Newark City of Learning Collaborative (NCLC) is a multi-layered partnership with foundations, government, educational institutions, businesses, and community groups all working together to increase post-secondary degrees and high-quality credentials in Newark to 25% by 2025. After much discussion and deliberation, the Center for Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies at Rutgers University-Newark was chosen to be the backbone of this important initiative, and who provides a full-time project coordinator devoted to the Collaborative.
The impetus for this initiative came from a series of discussions amongst philanthropic foundations and the institutions of higher education in Newark. These stakeholders concluded that very little work was done in Newark to support Newark high school students either accessing or transitioning to post-secondary education. While enrollment at the post-secondary institutions in New Jersey is strong, the number of Newark public school graduates who attend these institutions is very low. In fact, according to 2008-2012 American Community Survey the percentage of all Newark residents who holding a post-secondary degree is around 17%. From these discussions, stakeholders created committee structures to support learning teams, student engagement programs and partner networks, with the Cornwall Center at Rutgers University-Newark providing the valuable function of facilitating convenings, resources and data collection.
Many other workshops at the conference featured partnerships and collaboratives that are not quite full-scale collective impact initiatives as the NCLC, but rather “multi-stakeholder partnerships.” One of the things we learned at this conference is that it may take years to get to large-scale collective impact, and the work we are doing now can help us get there. Initiatives can be “collective impact informed,” meaning that they borrow from the five collective impact strategies, but perhaps are missing one of the key elements or are simply operating at a level of scale that is not citywide with serious buy-in from top leadership in government and philanthropy.
One session focused on an innovative program that highlights the potential of community college students to engage with their communities through service-learning. Madeline Yates, Executive Director of the Maryland-DC Campus Compact (MDCCC) and Jim Walters, President of The Walters Group (and former director of this partnership), presented on the impact data and participant outcomes on a program they began in 2009. Using an AmeriCorps VISTA grant to help build and coordinate the program, Montgomery College Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus (MC TP/SS) and Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) formed a “collaborative” partnership which used “cascading” service-learning. Through this partnership, both the college students (first-generation, diverse, immigrant students at risk of not completing a two-year degree) and the K-12 English for Speakers of Other Languages(ESOL) or English Language Learner (ELL) public school students participated together in service-learning based in-school and out-of-school activities through which they learned about and “gave back” to the surrounding community. Thus, this partnership benefitted both the college students (developing leadership, academic engagement, and retention) and the K-12 students. Through a study conducted by the Montgomery County Public School Office of Shared Accountability, the data on the K-12 participants was analyzed. The K-12 ESOL/ELL participating students’ data was compared to ESOL/ELL non-participating students’ data. The ESOL/ELL students who participated had a) increased grades in four subject areas b) higher test scores on standardized tests c) higher attendance d) higher (high school) completion. They also had strikingly fewer in and out-of-school suspension rates compared to the non-participating ESOL/ELL students. This program would be properly called a multi-stakeholder partnership, but has the potential to scale up. Thus at the beginning of the 2012–2013 school year, staff from MC TP/SS partnered with MCPS to provide ESOL SSL clubs at four high schools (Blair, John F. Kennedy, Northwood, and Springbrook). The school and community saw a positive benefit of the ESOL SSL clubs that are currently now only available in targeted MCPS high schools. Offering ESOL SSL clubs system-wide is the overall goal.
At the final plenary panel session, college presidents spoke to this concept of high-level cross-sector collaborative efforts with the Mayor of Newark, Ras J. Baraka. This panel included President Gale Gibson of Essex County College in Newark, Chancellor Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, President Joel Bloom, President of New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Chancellor Brian Strom, inaugural Chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs at Rutgers University. This panel was moderated by Campus Compact President Andrew Seligsohn, recently of Rutgers University-Camden. One of the interesting things about Newark is its scale in comparison to Philadelphia’s. There are only about 50,000 public school children, and it has a very intimate geographical concentration of post-secondary institutions in the downtown area. This fact was demonstrated by three different institutions each hosting a day of the conference, Rutgers University-Newark, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Essex County Community College respectively, all within one or two blocks of each other. The presidents spoke of the articulation agreements that had with one another and with the Newark Public Schools, building on each other’s strengths to build their capacity to support first generation college students collaboratively.
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