New Article: Reviving America, One College Town at a Time

Posted by Washington Monthly on January 17, 2023

Reviving America, One College Town at a Time – How symbiotic relationships between colleges and their communities have reaped rewards in Erie, Pennsylvania, and Waterville, Maine.

Gannon University started out in a working-class community during the boom years of the 1920s. John Mark Gannon, a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, who returned from the Vatican to become the Catholic bishop of Erie, had long been conscious of what he called the “cruel inequality” of higher education. “Those whose parents are wealthy may set out for college,” he said, according to the university’s history. While “the sons of workingmen, no matter how virtuous or talented, are forced to give up hope of a college education.”

The two-year college for which he led a building campaign, which is now a full-fledged university named for him, opened in 1925 in downtown Erie with the goal of bringing opportunity to its industrial community.

Nearly a century later, many schools like Gannon—small, private, regionally focused, not part of the crazed status competition for elite admissions slots, not in a fancy small-college town—have been struggling.

By comparison, Gannon is thriving. Its total enrollment is modest by national standards but has been going steadily up rather than down. Ten years ago, it had just over 4,000 graduate and undergraduate students. This year it has nearly 4,800, the largest in its history. Of the current students, about 20 percent are international, and 14 percent are counted as diverse. It is known for its programs in engineering, the health sciences, infotech and cyberskills, business, and others.

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