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Why Higher Education Institutions Should Partner with PK-12 School Systems

Why Higher Education Institutions Should Partner with PK-12 School Systems
PK-12 partnerships can enrich the campus in many ways, supports the local community and can also help to create new and lucrative revenue streams for the institution.

Higher education, and more specifically continuing education, should be working with PK-12 school systems, including both students and teachers. For public institutions in particular, there is an obligation to expose PK-12 students to the world of higher education. People can’t want what they can’t see. It’s up to higher education to show students all of its wonders so they can make informed decisions about their futures. Benefits of these kinds of partnerships include breaking down silos within the institution, developing solid town-gown relationships and creating enrollment pathways.

To give you some background, James Madison University (JMU) Outreach & Engagement’s mission is to serve as a catalyst by using JMU resources to create mutually beneficial partnerships, advance educational opportunities and empower individuals and our extended communities. In order to accomplish this, we offer both credit and noncredit programming. For our unit, noncredit programs include workforce development and PK-12 engagement programs. As a community-engaged university, we work hard to develop mutually beneficial programs that are reciprocal in nature, with carefully chosen and curated partnerships. We very consciously choose our local school divisions as some of those partners. There are several reasons we reach out to this specific audience.

In partnering with our schools, we have been able to engage faculty from widely different departments to work together to meet the needs of PK-12 students. They may never have had the opportunity to work together before, but welcome the chance to collaborate, and the end result for the students is an incredible, enriching experience. The campus community, too, benefits from these cross-department partnerships.

The relationship between a higher education institution and the local community can sometimes be a tense one, depending on the size of the institution and the character of its students. PK-12 programs provide an opportunity to influence that relationship in a positive direction. As one parent wrote after a recent summer camp experience, “In addition to providing many local children with a valuable learning experience, this camp provides the community with a positive image of JMU.  All too often, the only stories we hear about JMU are the negative ones splashed across the headlines or reported on the local news. You have students willing to take a week of their summer to teach and mentor young kids. … These things highlight the positive side of JMU. Additionally, they show middle and high school students that they don’t necessarily have to attend a bigger school to get a great education because they have a viable option right here at home.”

All of these programs have the potential of creating a pipeline for those students from elementary to middle to high school and eventually into higher education, and possibly to JMU. These partnerships work as a recruiting tool for the university and can even help increase the diversity on campus by reaching more lower-income and underserved students. Many of them may have never considered college or university without the exposure to programs that show them what is possible. Faculty on campus are often even more willing to engage in programs like this when they see it can help them eventually recruit high-quality students to their academic programs.

For these reasons, and many more, if you haven’t considered working with PK-12 school systems, I’d encourage you to think about it. These partnerships have created positive experiences for both our university and our community, and some really heartwarming stories to tell.

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