A new resource documents the success of public institutions that are building thriving communities as they seek sustainability through stewardship of place.

Seeking sustainability? Try ‘stewardship of place’

A new resource documents the success of public institutions that are driving regional economic development and building thriving communities

Regional comprehensive institutions hoping to chart paths to sustainability and impact should build a focus on stewardship of place, according to a new guide from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), which represents 350 public colleges, universities, and systems throughout the U.S.

A companion to the 2022 report “Recommitting to Stewardship of Place” rooted in the frontline experiences of regional comprehensive universities, the practitioner’s guide offers a blueprint for how colleges and universities can support greater civic engagement, drive a regional economic return on investment, and build thriving communities.

“In today’s challenging environment for public higher education, the most successful, vibrant institutions are often those that maintain the strongest connection to—and engagement with—the diverse communities surrounding their campuses,” said Mildred García, president of AASCU. “The imperative to connect our impact to everchanging community needs is as urgent as ever as institutions combat resource disparities, enrollment fluctuations, and the continued impacts of COVID-19’s disruptions on public higher education. Given these new challenges, stewardship of place and community requires a new sort of leadership, agility, and fresh thinking. That’s what this guide is designed to share with the field.”

The release of the new guide comes at a time when public colleges and universities continue to confront an array of challenges. While national undergraduate enrollment has begun to stabilize over the past year, many colleges and universities across the country continue to grapple with declines in student enrollment and financial volatility as a result of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Against that backdrop, the new guide outlines three key strategic priorities for regional comprehensive universities to support the validity of local communities: upward mobility, resources and resilience, and regional prosperity and civic health.

The new publication offers several measures for effective implementation of regional stewardship using case studies of eight regional universities that have increased their impact and growth by more tightly linking curriculum, programming and partnerships to the needs of surrounding their diverse communities.

For example, in September 2021, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL) introduced the Community Engaged Learning Program. The program creates a process to review and award courses with a Community Engaged Learning (CEL) designation. In CEL courses, students are provided an opportunity to engage in a high-impact practice with a community partner through a mutually beneficial relationship.

The courses also connect to one of eight competencies that national employers have highlighted as being critical to success in the workforce. The primary intent of the program is to give students real-world experience to help them grow their skills and make them more marketable to future employers, while at the same time provide a community service or meet a community need.

“More than 20 years ago, the notion of public institutions as ‘stewards of place’ was a clarion call for colleges and universities that were quietly doing the critical work of educating, serving and enriching communities, sometimes with scant recognition. The 2002 report left a profound impact on regional colleges—and also reshaped the public’s understanding of the connection between regional comprehensive universities and the communities where they are co-located,” said Mark A. Nook, president of the University of Northern Iowa and a member of AASCU’s Stewards of Place Presidential Task Force. “This research provides practical recommendations for institutions as they work to evolve and keep up with political, economic, demographic and societal changes.” 

How to achieve sustainability in higher education

This press release originally appeared online.

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Laura Ascione