Democratic Engagement

Commitment to Place

 Fueling Engagement in Democracy and Community Resilience

Commitment to place can be defined as a deep felt desire, borne out of a multitude of personal and shared experiences over time, to reside and contribute civically, socially, and financially in an identified community. The extent to which higher education develops ways to elicit this learning outcome will be reflected in the viability and resilience of the institution itself.

New Jersey Campus Compact is striving to build the capacity of this learning outcome to uncover new innovative career niches for graduates and partner organizations. The higher education community recognizes that the places identified as the primary locations for institutional engagement, coalitions, and partnerships, inevitably become the geographical boundaries where students and faculty network with communities. Through education and experience, these locations forge commitments and lasting relationships that inform students’ decision-making upon graduation. The outcomes for both alumni and for institutions’ neighbors are positive and lasting.

 

 Why is a collective Commitment to Place so Important for Communities AND for Higher Education?

In his opening remarks at the 2013 Presidents’ Leadership Summit, (links to downloadable connecting for good report) convened by Connecticut Campus Compact, Peter Salovey explained that higher education “has to find new ways to work, new models of student development, and new forms of strategic partnership”. Yale University is looking to the future, building students’ competence and commitment to local issues while also enabling students to identify market-driven solutions. It can be argued that economic resilience is the result of business loyalty and investment to the community and employees, trust in others that is established through networks, and NGOs that improve government proactivity. He continued, “Yale Entrepreneurial Institute recognizes this and is focusing its significant resources and intellectual capital to build the economy”.

 

The Connecting for Good report showed that commitment to place among corporate, civic, social sectors can prove to be important for the economic resilience of a town or city.

Research by Sean Safford and others have shown that cities where leaders of different types of organizations can congregate and socialize, and importantly, make decisions together, are more likely to thrive economically than cities that cannot do so. Safford, for example, documented that the economic trajectories of two similar towns (Allentown, PA and Youngstown, OH) diverged significantly after the crises of global competition and automation hit them both. Allentown, which had a robust and inter-sectorial civic network that provided a place for corporate, nonprofit, and university leaders to get to know each other, deliberate, and make decisions together, beat the economic challenges by innovation and collaboration. On the other hand, Youngstown, which had a less robust civic network, did not provide a place for leaders from different sectors to meet and work together. By the 1990s, Allentown and Youngstown were starkly different in every way, ranging from median income to murder rates. In Safford’s careful network analysis of the two cities, Lehigh University emerges as an important hub. Lehigh’s board included representatives of diverse local industries and unions, and the fact that board members knew each other allowed them to collaborate and develop a joint strategy when Allentown lost its traditional steel jobs.

 

In the Program Brief for the 2013 Presidents’ Summit-Leadership-Summit convened by Connecticut Campus Compact, the facilitators, Peter Levine and Kei Ginsberg of CIRCLE, hypothesized about how these commitments are formed and sustained:

 

“(C)ommunities in which residents report a strong sense of social cohesion, trust, and pride for each other and the town, are more resilient to the negative effects of a recession, Communities with more “civic health” lose fewer jobs than otherwise similar communities with weaker civil societies… By engaging in civil society, citizens obtain marketable skills and network contacts and increase the likelihood of employment; civic engagement may nurture a sense of community pride, which causes people to invest locally; and a strong civic infrastructure may make local governments more responsive to the citizens’ collective needs and improve their perfor­mance, cutting waste and corruption.”

Taken overall, the higher education community should recognize that the places identified as the primary locations for institutional engagement, coalitions, and partnerships, inevitably become the geographical boundaries where students and faculty network with communities. Through education and experience, these locations forge commitments and lasting relationships that inform students’ decision-making upon graduation. The outcomes for both alumni and for institutions’ neighbors are positive and lasting.

 

Resources

Resources

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