Article: Education on Higher Education for the Next President

Posted by on September 15, 2008 (you need to be a subscriber to use this link)

An Education on Higher Education for the Next President

Chronicle of Higher Education–Sept 12, 2008

JAMES T. HARRIS III, president of Widener University, and IRA HARKAVY, associate vice president and director of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania.

Over the past decade, a movement dedicated to educating students for democratic leadership has developed and is having a significant impact, especially in urban areas. With the election of a new president, this is an appropriate time to harness the power and momentum of that movement and create a new compact among the government, higher-education institutions, and their communities. The federal government should encourage colleges to better realize their mission by tapping into the intellect and energy of professors
and students to help solve important social problems.

Fortunately an increasing number of such partnerships between colleges and their communities have developed, most notably those that engage the colleges with community groups, governmental and nonprofit organizations, parents, and others to better educate children and attack the roots of poverty and neighborhood decline. One area where colleges can make, and have made, a particularly significant contribution is by working with local public schools.

The next president could help encourage such partnerships by directing federal support and attention toward institutions that have demonstrated through their actions a commitment to improve the quality of learning and life in their communities.

A good first step would be to create a multi-agency federal commission designed to advance the social responsibility of colleges. The commission could produce recommendations that would serve as the basis for a national summit on the civic responsibility of higher education, which would help spur both a national conversation and appropriate action at all levels of government.

The government could also strengthen and expand community-based work-study to engage more college students with their communities. By making federal work-study money more flexible, so that institutions could develop creative and effective linkages to local communities, that program would be a more powerful and effective antipoverty tool.

The government should also encourage the development of strategies and programs to promote regional consortia of higher-education institutions that could work together to improve schooling and community life.

In addition, the next president could give prestigious awards to outstanding partnerships of schools, colleges, and communities. We suggest that these awards be based on the “Noah principle” < awards given for building arks (producing real change), not for predicting rain (describing the problems that exist and will develop if actions are not taken). The severe and worsening conditions in America’s urban schools and communities require government, foundations, corporations, and colleges to collaboratively, immediately, and systematically carry out the Noah principle: in short, taking bold action and doing the right thing.

The federal government and we in higher education must do more to reward and recognize institutions that take the risk to create mutually beneficial and respectful partnerships that make a profound difference in communities and on campuses.

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