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Urban Serving Universities Collaborate to Transform Higher Education, Strengthen Cities


Portland State University Life Sciences Building

In 2014 a cohort of seven public urban research institutions embarked on a bold journey of transformation with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) in the Transformational Planning Grant (TPG) project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMFG). Their goal, reinvention; spark institution-wide reflection and engagement, planning and redesign, that disrupts inefficiencies related to access, diversity, student costs, retention and degree completion and replace them with evidence-based, promising practices that maximize student success and can be scaled and replicated by other institutions.

The outgrowth of this multi-year collaboration has been an inventive and relentlessly persistent student success initiative framed under the rubric Collaborating for Change. Guided by core values driving the campus change process, the schools have found that


Collaborative.  Institutional change brings people together, specifically groups and individuals who have not traditionally worked alongside one another.  Collaboration may occur internally and externally and focuses on outcomes beyond student performance.

Embedded.  Urban serving universities are distinct in that they are of the city.  Student success, therefore, reverberates to the neighborhoods, families, businesses, K-12 education system, and overall strength of the city infrastructure.  As such, boundaries are blurred between the university and the city, making for stronger, longer, and more developed relationships in service to students and the community.

Inclusive.  Urban serving universities reflect the demographics of their cities and, thus, provide working models of diversity and inclusion.  Institutional change is not a matter of targeting specific groups but rather looking at the needs of all students across demographics such as race, ethnicity, and income to overcome barriers through a student’s entire pathway from recruitment to graduation.

Accountable.  Institutional change is transparent and evidence-based.  Roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and require a strong commitment from institutional leadership.

Relentless Commitment.  Change is not an idea, a practice, or a project.  It is a relentless implementation approach that allows for continuous improvement that includes piloting and eventual scaling of successful practices.

The seven institutions living out these values in the USU/APLU initiative are: California State University, Fresno, Florida International University, Georgia State University, Portland State University, Temple University, the University of Akron, and the University of Illinois Chicago.

Expect to hear much from them.


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