On Common Ground: Number 8, Winter 1998


Independent Colleges and Universities in Partnership with America's Schools

By David L. Warren

Ideas about how to improve the quality of life for our nation's children, including how to improve student academic achievement and preparation for college, are clearly within our reach. Research and exemplary programs abound. We are beginning to know what works . . . We also are within reach of one another. All the players, and in most cases even the resources, are within reach . . . if we pool our efforts. Our challenge is to work together toward common priorities. ("Within Our Reach: Improving Student Achievement Through Partnerships", Second National Conference on School/College Collaborations, Atlanta, Georgia, June 23, 1991)

This statement, contained in materials for a conference that brought together academic leaders from all levels of education, highlights the primary motivations of those colleges, universities, schools, businesses, and individuals who have developed partnerships. Such programs, growing in number, size, and importance, usually center on:

Much of the research, resources, and exemplary programs mentioned above can be found at independent colleges and universities. Yet the involvement of independent institutions in the partnership movement is sometimes not readily seen by opinion leaders and policymakers. To help close this information gap, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) has conducted three surveys of its member institutions since 1991 to collect information on collaborative projects between independent institutions and other members of local communities, including elementary and secondary schools. What follows is a selection of results from these surveys, along with just a few illustrations of partnerships involving independent colleges and universities.

The Community Context

Partnerships between independent colleges and universities and elementary and secondary schools are part of a larger context in which independent institutions contribute to the vitality of their towns, cities and regions. Nearly all private colleges and universities use their resources and talent in formal or informal community service partnerships, ranging from providing free mammograms for low-income women to free income tax preparation for the elderly. Independent institutions also conduct research focused on local needs that might include historic preservation, community safety, substance abuse and environmental analysis. In some cases, independent universities are leading large scale economic development projects that affect housing, job training, medical care, social services, and business and technology development.

Partnerships with local schools are not just an extension of these activities, but a statement about how independent colleges and universities view themselves and how the community views them as integral and irreplaceable parts of community life.

Diversity: The Hallmark of Partnerships

Independent institutions are older than the nation itself. They are not only vehicles of tradition, but centers of learning whose independent governance gives them the flexibility to respond quickly to the ever-changing needs of American life. The 1,600 independent colleges and universities in the United States enroll more than 2.9 million students, and are located in every state. They include traditional liberal arts colleges, major research universities, church- and faith-related colleges, historically black colleges, women's colleges, two-year colleges, and schools of law, medicine, engineering, business, health, and other professions. Enrollments range from fewer than 100 to more than 30,000 students. By reflecting the diversity of the nation, these colleges give students many ways to achieve their educational aspirations through a choice of institutional mission, location, academic program, and institutional size.

The diversity of the independent sector is reflected in the types of colleges and universities involved in partnerships—urban, suburban, and rural institutions, large universities and small colleges. Research universities such as Yale, MIT, and Rice are joined by liberal arts colleges like St. Olaf College in Minnesota and Ohio Wesleyan University. Rural colleges such as Berea in Kentucky are as apt to have a partnership with an elementary or secondary school as are urban institutions like Loyola University in New Orleans or Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois.

The range of program activities, reflecting the special mission of the college and the needs of the school community, is also wide and varied. For example, the "School Nature Area Program" is a cooperative venture between St. Olaf College and elementary schools throughout Minnesota to provide training in environmental education to elementary school leaders. A program at Rice University in Houston, honored by the National Science Foundation, promotes careers in mathematical and computational science for high school students. Loyola University trains teachers in conflict resolution programs in New Orleans public schools.

Four general areas of activities are evident from the responses to our surveys:

Overall, more than half of all independent institutions have school/college partnerships. These institutions average more than two partnerships apiece.

Roles of the Partners

Most independent colleges and universities play multiple roles in partnerships. They are involved in planning and coordination. Faculty serve as consultants and teachers. The institutions also may make available their campus facilities, provide scholarships and fundraising, develop curricula, and provide training sessions and workshops. Ohio Wesleyan University's "Delaware Initiative" is a framework for several community partnerships for school children and families. It involves college students and faculty directly in many public school issues, including mentoring, mediation, and adult literacy. The MIT "National High School Science Symposium" brings staff from thirteen school districts around the country to talk about innovations and improvements in high school science curricula. Bradley University's Center for School Leadership provides professional development to principals and prospective principals. Yale University's "EduLink" provides Internet access to New Haven (Connecticut) schools and assists teachers nationwide through individual EduLink volunteer liaisons.

Elementary and secondary schools also play multiple roles. They are involved in coordinating and planning the partnership, and often serve as the site of activities. Perhaps their most important role is the selection of students, teachers, and staff to participate in the partnership programs, carefully considering the goals of the partnership and individuals who are most likely to help the partnership achieve its intended goals. The schools' roles may also include providing transportation, evaluation, and teaching and academic support.

Where Does the Partnership Funding Come From?

There are six primary sources of funding for school and college collaborations: colleges and universities; schools; corporate partners; nonpartner corporations and foundations; individuals; and others. Although each partnership has its own particular pattern of financial support, colleges and universities generally provide the largest share of the funds—approximately 40 percent—followed by the schools or school districts at 27 percent, nonpartner corporations and foundations and other sources at 12 percent, corporate partners at 6 percent, and individuals at 3 percent.

One example of an innovative financing mechanism is the Berea (Kentucky) Community School. Berea College officials believe this may be the only situation in which a private college, a city government, and a public school have joined forces to create an independent school district. The college's annual payments help offset interest costs to the municipality on bonds and are in lieu of a 3 percent utility tax. They also fund professional development for the Community School faculty. The college uses the school in its teacher education program, and the Community School students use some of the facilities at the college for free.

Impediments to Successful Partnerships

Some colleges who responded to the NAICU surveys reported potential problems that may inform those about to begin or to fund a partnership.

Nearly half of the partnerships described by independent institutions suffered from a lack of funding in operating, stabilizing, and institutionalizing the partnership for the future. Other problems mentioned by the collegiate partners involved basic communications—colleges and schools may not know as much about each other as they think they do. Respondents reported that only time spent working together and openness in confronting problems can overcome such situations.

Overall Satisfaction with Partnerships

The vast majority of independent colleges and universities with partnerships—nine of ten—are satisfied with their programs and would expand them if the resources were available, or would increase the number of partnerships that they already have. Their experience has encouraged them to expand their commitment. Even institutions that do not currently have a partnership overwhelmingly support establishing one. If the resources were available, three-quarters of these colleges would become involved in a partnership with elementary/secondary schools.

It is clear that partnerships are working—for colleges, for schools, for students, and for teachers. Independent colleges and universities have accepted the challenge given to all of us—to work together to improve the quality of life for our nation's children.


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