Universities Move Towards Buying, Hiring and Investing Locally

The Democracy Collaborative Featured Presenter at National Conference for Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities
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Erin Kesler

Monday, October 9, 2017

Denver, Colorado – Today the Democracy Collaborative is pleased to announce its collaboration with the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU), the nation’s largest membership organization of urban university leaders, at its annual conference. CUMU members are committed to addressing the economic, educational, and social issues facing the cities they serve. The group hosts an annual conference for urban university leadership and this year has partnered with the Collaborative’s “Anchor Dashboard Learning Cohort ” program to workshop and present proposals on how universities can improve the health and well-being of their respective communities.

As income inequality in the United States continues to soar, with the wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. households capturing 76 percent of all the wealth, a pioneering group of colleges and universities is stepping up to do something about it. These institutions are choosing to act as “anchors” in their communities. They are nurturing inclusive economic growth by investing, hiring, and purchasing locally. This work also includes community outreach, engagement and benefit initiatives like building affordable housing, or increasing student-body diversity. This year’s conference marks CUMU’s first, explicit, focus on advancing anchor work.

The Anchor Dashboard Learning Cohort is a group of six universities working to address the economic realities and needs of their communities by directing more of their resources locally. These leadership universities include: Buffalo State College (NY), University of Missouri at St. Louis (MI), Rutgers University at Newark (NJ), Drexel University (PA), Cleveland State University (OH), and Virginia Commonwealth University (VA).

By investing in job training and hiring policies that prioritize local residents, contracting with local food suppliers, or funding local clinics and affordable housing, these universities are embracing their “anchor mission.” The cohort understands the enormous impact that they, and other higher education institutions, could have on local economies. Universities in the United States employ over 4 million people, spend over $43 billion on goods and services and hold $515 billion in endowments. Since joining the Cohort, the strategic plan of each university now includes a commitment to achieving the anchor mission .

“The movement to align the resources of universities with the needs of their communities is a crucial part of building inclusive, sustainable, and local economic development,” said Democracy Collaborative President Ted Howard. “Our Dashboard cohort has committed to examining their impact in a real way, and advancing the anchor mission. We’re excited to work with the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities to harness the power of higher education to improve our communities."

Examples of anchor mission activities by the cohort include:

  • Buffalo State College – Its Small Business Development Center has been a vanguard supporter and incubator of minority, women and locally-owned small businesses in the Buffalo-area.

  • University of Missouri at St. Louis – Optometry school students voted for the school to fund the development of a primary care facility in a neighborhood with a dearth of physicians and medical facilities, providing low-cost care.

  • Rutgers University at Newark – The university is a leader in Newark’s “2020” initiative, which aims to create 2020 jobs for residents at anchor institutions by the year 2020. As part of the initiative, faculty member Kevin Lyons has led break-through work in mapping out local procurement needs to hospitals and universities in the area. He noticed hospital socks were shipped in from out of state and created a pipeline for a locally grown business to provide them instead.

  • Cleveland State University – In partnership with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (with land donated by CSU), built a state of the art new facility for the only available elementary school in the downtown area. Campus International School is partnered with CSU and provides high-quality public education for the area’s 15,000 residents.

  • Drexel University – In partnership with the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, developed a medical assistant training program to create a pipeline of living wage jobs for residents.

  • Virginia Commonwealth University – As part of a coalition with VCU Health Systems and community-based organizations like CARITAS and Richmond R.E.A.L created a jobs-training program in construction for formerly incarcerated residents. The program, run by ABC, Inc., places graduates in construction projects at a living wage.

A report on the group published today, Higher Education’s Anchor Mission: Measuring Place-Based Engagement, by Senior Democracy Collaborative Associate Emily Sladek, details a set of recommendations for implementing Universities’ anchor missions. These recommendations, which will be shared with CUMU’s members at this year’s conference, are the result of intensive work by the cohort including monthly phone calls, semi-annual conferences, detailed surveys and questionnaires to report on the groups’ findings.

The report highlights the importance of:

  • Dedicated resources – In an atmosphere of statewide educational budget cuts, a financial commitment to improving local community strengthens a university’s potential tax base, builds public trust, and engages students in long-term civic opportunities in support of the anchor mission;

  • Data collection – Targeted and complete data measures community assets, giving universities a fuller picture of their economic and social footprints and their potential for impacting community benefit;

  • External partnerships – Working with stakeholders within communities like mayors, long-time neighborhood residents, health systems, and advocacy groups strengths universities’ anchor work and creates shared opportunities for building wealth locally;

  • Internal messaging – The interdisciplinary nature of anchor work resulted in the breaking down of silos within university departments. Leadership, procurement offices, faculty and students should all be educated about the potential for universities’ to positively impact local communities.

To learn more about the Cohort click here.

To read the full report “Higher Education’s Anchor Mission: Measuring Place-Based Engagement,” click here.

About the Democracy Collaborative:

The Democracy Collaborative is dedicated to developing new ways to build community wealth and stronger local economies, including through transformative partnerships with anchor institutions like universities, local governments and health systems. For more information, visit: http://democracycollaborative.org

Erin Kesler 
(202) 559-1473 x133