Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Launches New Initiative to Rate Colleges on Economic and Social Impact in Their Communities

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The Rethinking Communities initiative will evaluate anchor institutions with metrics based on economic development, community-building and education, and health, safety, and environmental standards.

The past few years have shown that if the American economy remains centered on Wall Street, only a select few will prosper. To create broader opportunity, Millennials are starting to look closer to home to build a new economy that works for everyone. That’s why the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, the nation’s largest student policy organization, is launching a new initiative that will examine the roles that anchor institutions like colleges and universities can and should play in the economic development and social improvement of their local communities.

Starting with an assumption that localities – cities, towns, and even neighborhoods – will drive the economies and politics of the future, the Roosevelt Institute has established the Rethinking Communities initiative, which will work to create local projects to improve economic development, civic infrastructure, and more. Rethinking Communities draws on theoretical work from experts such as Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bowman Cutter, formerly of the Office of Management and Budget and the National Economic Council, and puts that work into action through a powerful network of students on campuses across the country. Its first project, analyzing the impact of anchor institutions, will set the stage for ongoing community-focused policy work.

According to Alan Smith, Associate Director of Networked Initiatives at the Roosevelt Institute, the Campus Network students are focusing on the possibilities of networked community governance, with local groups working together to fill the gaps created by government dysfunction at the federal level. “This initiative will explore the potential for a new hyper-local economic movement. Many young Americans feel they don’t have a voice in government or the policymaking process, but our hope is that collaborating with these small community-based groups will create a new sense of shared identity and possibility.” Smith discussed the project at greater length in a recent post on the Roosevelt Institute’s blog, Next New Deal.

The potential scope of this project is wide-ranging, but it is starting from the data. Using a set of metrics developed by the Democracy Collaborative and adapted by members of the Campus Network, students at multiple chapters, ranging from Denison University in Granville, OH and Goucher College in Baltimore, MD to Yale University in New Haven, CT and the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, will measure their institutions’ work to facilitate local economic development, community-building and education, and better health, safety, and environmental standards. These metrics, akin to a report card, will enable students to identify institutions that have a strong positive influence as well as those whose practices need improvement. With data in hand, they will write proposals to improve specific weaknesses, whether that means redirecting a portion of a university’s purchasing to focus on locally owned businesses or working to improve the health of community residents.

The students will begin to collect data in January and plan to release report cards based on these metrics in March. From there, Campus Network students will continue to plan and enact local policy change to improve the impact of the schools that they attend. Smith suggests that this comparative process could “put real pressure on universities… to do a better job in responding to the needs and values of the communities where they’re based.” The ultimate goal of the initiative is to shift toward a relationship between localities and institutions of higher education that is more balanced, more sustainable, and more supportive of all community members.

Schools participating in the Rethinking Communities initiative include Amherst College in Amherst, MA; American University in Washington, DC; Columbia University in New York, NY; Cornell University in Ithaca, NY; Denison University in Granville, OH; Elon University in Elon, NC; George Washington University in Washington, DC; Goucher College in Baltimore, MD; Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA; Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA; New York University in New York, NY; Northwestern University in Evanston, IL; Tufts University in Medford, MA; the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL; the University of Delaware in Newark, DE; the University of Georgia in Athens, GA; the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI; the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, IN; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC; and Yale University in New Haven, CT. Additional schools are still joining the project, and members of Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline, a city-based network of young progressive professionals, also plan to apply the metrics to anchor institutions in their own communities.

For more information on Rethinking Communities, please contact Tim Price.

About the Roosevelt Institute

The Roosevelt Institute is an ideas and leadership organization founded in the belief that America should offer opportunity to all. To develop a new social contract for the 21st century, we advance the work of progressive economists and social policy thinkers and support an emerging generation of leaders as they design solutions to the nation’s most pressing issues.

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Tim Price
Roosevelt Institute
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