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What Does it Mean to Anchor a Community?

Photo Credit: University of Illinois at Chicago

Photo Credit: University of Illinois at Chicago

Anchor institutions enhance the economic, social and cultural well-being of their home cities. While many institutions can play this role (hospitals, schools, recreational centers, stadiums), university engagement promises the potentially greatest reward. With its mission of education, discovery and engagement, its networks of knowledge that reach into the community and across the globe, and its role as educator of the urban workforce, the urban university sits at the center of the city in a way that no other institution can.

While we know intuitively anchors matter to the quality of life in the city, measuring those benefits to both the city and the university continues to elude us.  USU is committed to better understanding those impacts, so urban universities can continue to improve their relation to, and influence on, their cities and neighborhoods.

Our own research sheds light on what it means to be an anchor institution. USU’s recent report, The Foundational Role of Universities as Anchor Institutions in Urban Develop

ment, written by Debra Friedman, David Perry and Carrie Menendez, revealed that, at its core, an anchor institution integrates the anchor mission into the very fabric of the university enterprise.

How is the anchor commitment expressed in an anchor institution?

1) It starts with the mission statement and strategic plan—anchor institutions ground their commitment into their vision and marching orders.

The University of Washington Tacoma was founded in 1990 to serve and provide access to higher education for upper-division place-and time-bound students in the South Puget Sound and to act as a catalyst for revitalizing Tacoma.”  University of Washington Tacoma 2007-20017 Strategic Plan,

2) That mission is built into the administrative structure of the university—anchor institutions create an office or a position or positions to coordinate their activities in the city.

3) It is embedded into the curriculum. While service learning hours have been the traditional measurement for engaged learning, methods for that learning have been diversifying and deepening over time, making them harder to measure. Determining how to better measure engaged learning is an important goal for understanding the city-university relationship.

Photo Credit:  University of New Mexico

Photo Credit: University of New Mexico

4) The commitment to the city is institutionalized in policy. For example, tenure and promotion guidelines have been changed to reward engagement.

Fresno State University, for example, promotion and tenure guidelines recognize service learning as innovative pedagogy , professional service to community organizations as a recognized service and community-based or participatory research as a scholarly activity.

5)  The anchor mission is included in the budget and resources are allocated. While calculating this can be difficult, as engagement in the city deepens, universities are having to figure out how to do it.

6) Engagement is tracked and evaluated. The survey discovered that, in fact, universities have started to track partnerships and engagement practices, although much work still needs to be done on this.

What do anchor activities look like?

Partnerships are the most apparent manifestation of that commitment. Take a look. They run across all societal needs.

Credit: The Foundational Role of Universities as Anchor Institutions in Urban Development

Credit: The Foundational Role of Universities as Anchor Institutions in Urban Development

Anchors also engage in place-making—building collaboration in achieve impact in real estate development, neighborhood revitalization, public safety and transportation, among many others.

Photo Credit: Portland State University

Photo Credit: Portland State University

Even in tough economic times,  anchors maintain their dedication to the city. Our research suggests that even if investments appear to go down in dollar terms, the range of activity does not.  We also found that partnerships and goals are not fixed over time, but evolve in tune with changing university and city priorities.

What challenges remain?

Ongoing challenges to effective and impactful university-city partnerships include a lack of data to effectively measure impact, and methodologies to calculate the ROI from these efforts—to the university and the community. Equally, the need is not just for data but measures that capture the depth and diversity of activities in progress. The example of service learning discussed above exemplifies this challenge.

Have you solved some of these challenges? Have we missed any key points in our understanding of anchors? Let us know in the comments.


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