Using the Urban Advantage to Achieve the Greatest Good
Members of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU) recognized nearly thirty years ago that institutions of higher education (IHEs) located in urban and metropolitan cities faced a unique set of challenges – but also shared exceptional opportunities – for developing and deploying the vast intellectual capital residing within their halls. They joined forces to share ideas and practices that would, among other things, integrate their colleges and universities more seamlessly and usefully with their surrounding communities. Over time, CUMU members realized they should play an important role as anchor institutions in their communities: “local economic engines and mission-driven organizations inextricably linked to the long-term well-being of their local communities…” (Democracy Collaborative, 2018).
CUMU’s 23rd Annual Conference was held in Denver, Colorado in October 2017 with a focus on “The Urban Advantage” (CUMU, 2017). Presentations and conversations explored 21st century challenges created by states decreasing their funding to public higher education and by gentrification of the neighborhoods surrounding CUMU IHEs. They stressed unique learning opportunities for students and faculty studying and working at urban colleges and universities: clearly, an urban setting provides more occasions for students to engage in internships, service learning, volunteering, community-based research, and other pedagogies now known to improve student persistence through to graduation and alumni chances to pursue the careers or post-baccalaureate programs of their choice (AAC&U, n.d.). Scholars and activists called for urban IHEs to consider how they might engage with their surrounding communities more effectively to solve problems, improve the local economy, and educate a professional 21st century-relevant workforce. Finally, they underscored the imperative that metropolitan colleges and universities stay true to their mission of providing the public good of education to achieve social justice, graduate civically engaged alumni, and to be both in and of the community.