Published on 2013/09/09

Four Reasons Extended Education Units Should be Building Links with Local Communities

Four Reasons Extended Education Units Should be Building Links with Local Communities
Given the roots extended education units already have in local communities, it make sense for them to be their university’s representative when it comes to local development and creating town-gown links.

The Carnegie Foundation defines community engagement as “the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity. The purpose of community engagement is the partnership of college and university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good.”

A great definition, but how do cash-strapped, resource-deficient institutions achieve these goals?

The natural fit is through extended education. On the whole, we spend much more time with businesses and organizations within the community. We also pride ourselves on being the innovative or entrepreneurial arm of the university, yet when it comes to outreach, much of the time we are following the university’s lead in community engagement.

Here are four important reasons why the extended education departments of your university should be leading the relationship:

1. Catalyst for Positive Change

Just having a seat at the table can say a lot to your community. Our extended education unit is actively involved in the business and leadership organizations within our geographic area. This not only allows us to understand the business community needs, but also to be part of the solution.

2. Diversity

This is an area in which most universities struggle. By reaching out to underserved groups and the non-profit organizations that work with them, we can provide assistance for what is their (sometimes) first glimpse into the world of higher education. Designing programs that can provide a benefit to these students can put them on a path to lifelong learning that can elevate their lives and the life of the community. But that is just one component. The other is what we can learn from these communities: how we can be better at what we do and how we do it. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has a very useful report on Universities and disadvantaged communities.

3. Incubator for Innovation

There is no doubt these are tumultuous times. We also know during economic downturns and disruption, there are opportunities. It is usually during these times our greatest advancements are made. The university has a responsibility to promote and foster innovation and act as that 21st century partner by working with all of these groups to provide a safe and purposeful place to foster innovative ways to address the new reality of this century.

4. Collaboration

The traditional university paradigm is looking more and more irrelevant to our communities. The seeming lack of ability to address and correct these deficiencies has been the rallying cries for detractors who say the university as we know it is dead. This is premature but not without merit. The university can be relevant, and the most obvious place for this is through extended education. Being given the freedom to act as a true partner can result in solutions for organizations they may never have thought of.

Many extended education units feel their hands are tied through a slow-moving bureaucracy or continued lack of funding. Here are a few ways extended education departments can maximize their impact:

1. Become a Connector

Put the people together who can make a difference. Most universities have connections in the local community, but have you ever connected the dots for them and brought them to the table for a working meeting? Consider bringing small groups together from diverse backgrounds to work through problems. By acting as the power broker, you are providing a tremendous service to your community.

2. Specialize

You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can partner with those who have strengths in areas where you are weak. We partner with community colleges, state colleges and universities and private education providers. We understand the new reality is lifelong learners who receive education from a variety of sources. Our philosophy is to always focus on what is best for the student.

The 21st century relationship looks more like collaboration than a fact-finding opportunity to understand which new programs to build. We have as much to learn about the new realities of our communities as they have to learn from our institutional research and programs. How we approach our collaborations will have as much to do with success as what we contribute.

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Readers Comments

Patricia Bowman 2013/09/09 at 11:17 am

Without the local community, there is no CE. Simple. If extended and continuing ed units aren’t meeting the needs of their local community, they’re simply not fulfilling their mission.

Jeff P 2013/09/09 at 12:28 pm

There is a school of thought that institutions are being asked to do things that weren’t traditionally within their mandate, such as job training. Having relationships with local communities could help to set out clear expectations for each partner’s role in the education of lifelong learners and provide answers to questions such as, “Should the institution be involved in job training or should it provide a broader education?”

    Vicki Brannock 2013/09/09 at 4:41 pm

    Jeff – This is an important point. We were recently involved in a grant process with the local community and had stakeholders from the major business types in our area as well as educators. The businesses discussed their needs and the education stakeholders were able ask the right questions and prepare appropriate courses based on true need. This was a lengthy process (1 year) but had some very interesting results, all very different from the ideas we had in mind when we first began the process.

Linda McAdams 2013/09/09 at 2:26 pm

It’s important for colleges not to underestimate the need for community engagement. Sometimes, just being present — at community events, roundtables and so forth — helps to build trust and understanding so that mutual learning can occur. The outcome of this type of engagement doesn’t necessarily have to be formal partnership agreements between community partners and colleges. There is great value in the informal networks that are formed from merely having a seat at the table.

Zandra Thomas 2013/09/09 at 4:25 pm

Great article about some of the types of collaboration available. I agree with Brannock that institutions are well positioned to lead the discussion on lifelong learning partnerships if these working groups don’t currently exist in their communities.

Vicki Brannock 2013/09/09 at 4:29 pm

Patricia – I agree that this is an important part of the CE mandate. It is also time to move past the idea of “helping the community out” to a true partnership where we work together not only to fulfill our mission but to add the kind of value that makes us an indispensable community member.

Vicki Brannock 2013/09/09 at 4:35 pm

Linda – It says a lot about our commitment to the community when we sit at the table. The wonderful thing about true partnerships is that no one group is alone. Just providing a voice from higher education is sometimes enough.

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