PHILADELPHIA – A new book, The Road Half Traveled: University Engagement at a Crossroads, provides a forward-thinking perspective on the future of university-community partnerships. Coauthored by Rita Axelroth Hodges, assistant director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships, the book reviews the role universities have played as anchor institutions in their communities and mulls the new directions those relationships might take.
Hodges, a 2005 Penn graduate, joined with Steve Dubb, research director at the Democracy Collaborative of the University of Maryland, to write the book, based on a report they had worked on previously. Hodges and Dubb met while compiling a report on the role of anchor institutions in improving urban neighborhoods, produced by a national task force led by Ira Harkavy of the Netter Center. The task force was recruited to advise Shaun Donavan, incoming U.S. housing and urban development secretary, after the 2008 presidential election. Not long afterwards, Dubb contacted Hodges with an opportunity through a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to explore the anchor institution concept further.
“They were looking at how various types of universities were impacting community economic development,” Hodges said. “I signed on for a six-month research project that lasted well over two years.”
As Hodges and Dubb define it, a university’s mission as an anchor institution is to apply the institution’s long-term, place-based economic power, in combination with its human and intellectual resources, consciously and strategically to better the welfare of the community in which it resides.
The pair drew on 10 diverse universities as case studies.
“It was a mix of public and private, Ivy and community college, East Coast/West Coast and included a historically black college,” she said.
The authors said the schools’ engagement with their communities has come about through a variety of ways but stems from a deep tradition of the land-grant colleges, first created in 1862. Their work explores practices and strategies that can be employed to improve conditions in low-income communities and emphasizes the critical roles of university leaders, philanthropy and policy in this process. While a growing number of universities are dedicating resources to support their surrounding communities, the writers suggest much potential for advancement remains.
When Hodges and Dubb were in the final stages of producing the Casey report, they learned that the Michigan State University Press wanted to publish their work as a book as part of its ongoing series on Transformations in Higher Education.
To date, this book is the most comprehensive account of the range of roles played by universities as anchors in their communities. Released in October, The Road Half Traveled is available from Michigan State University Press through its Web site and at bookstores, including the Penn Bookstore.