If Cisneros is right that America's institutions of higher learning are
crucial in the fight to save our cities, then those who are involved in
economic development, including financial institutions, must know how
to build strong, strategic alliances with these institutions.
Historically, higher education institutions have addressed issues of
poverty by focusing on the symptoms. To be fair, some colleges and universities
have provided much-needed assistance in addressing the health and welfare
needs of residents in distressed communities. But few schools, with the
possible exception of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs),
have adopted a dual mission of educating students and meeting
the broader development needs of the communities they serve.
In this post-cold war era, however, higher education institutions are
actively assuming economic development roles within their communities.
This evolution is the result of several factors:
As colleges and universities fight for private and public dollars,
they must demonstrate their benefit to society beyond the education
they provide to enrolled students.
When approaching a college or university, it is important to first understand
at least a little bit about the world of academia.
The Nature of Academia
Generally speaking there are four types of colleges and universities:
Research Universities conduct, as one of their primary missions,
ground-breaking scientific research. Faculty are promoted based on their
research, teaching and community service. But ultimately, their careers
are built on research. Thus, junior faculty (assistant and associate professors)
face a crucial "publish or perish" mandate. While Full Professors
have tenure, their salary remains tied to their publishing ability. Examples
of research universities include the University of Washington and the
University of California at Los Angeles.
Land Grant Universities provide, as one of their primary goals,
on-going education to farmers and business owners in rural communities.
Faculty are evaluated and promoted based on their work in research, teaching
and community service. But because of their land grant charter, these
institutions devote resources, including staff and students, to agricultural
extension programs. Land grant colleges will be likely allies in developing
and expanding small business assistance programs that target distressed
communities. Examples of land grant universities include Arizona State
University and the University of Nevada at Reno.
Teaching Colleges focus on undergraduate education and meeting
the needs of a region or a community. Faculty at these institutions are
motivated by teaching and there is less emphasis on research and publishing
than at research and land grant universities. Examples of teaching colleges
include Occidental College in California and the University of Alaska,
Community and Technical Colleges provide education for high
school graduates and worker retraining for people seeking to re-enter
the workforce or acquire new skills to be more competitive in a changing
economy. These institutions may be the most receptive to becoming involved
in economic development due to their established focus on worker retraining.
At the same time, many faculty are paid only for the courses they teach,
not for research or service they conduct. Thus, there are significant
time constraints on faculty at these institutions. Examples of community
colleges include Seattle Central Community College and City College of
For those of us in the West, it is important to note the growing presence
of Tribal Colleges located on reservations. These colleges are
an important entry point for Native peoples seeking higher education and
resources for educating workers and managers in tribally-owned businesses.
Examples of tribal colleges include Northwest Indian College and Dine
College in Arizona.
Identifying Shared Interests
Having determined that the local college or university has resources
to help reach your economic development goals and armed with an understanding
of the mission of the institution, the next step is to formalize an alliance
through which to build a program. This process follows five general steps:
- Identify a key decision-maker at the college or university with whom
- Articulate benefits and goals for each party in the alliance;
- Gain broad-based internal and external support;
- Obtain high-level support from a Dean or President; and
- Marshall the resources to launch the project.
Some institutions may want to improve the physical appearance and personal
safety of their surrounding community. Others may want to provide students
with real-world business experience. Still others might view involvement
as part of their public institution mandate to serve all segments of the
At the University of Washington, a shared vision for a program grew from
an alliance which included the Business School, community-based organizations
and the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. Tenured faculty were
among the leaders of the alliance which recognized that Seattle's small
business owners in economically distressed communities needed assistance
in obtaining advanced business education and technical assistance. In conducting
an assets analysis to address this need, the University of Washington recognized
its strongest asset of all its business school students.
"When working with a decision-maker
(tenured faculty, department chair,
Dean, Provost, or President)
it will be important to establish
the reason that the institution
should be interested in
Once a vision was developed, based on the creation of a student/small
businesss mentoring program, the alliance expanded to include financial
institutions, insurance companies, private industry leaders, government
officials, small business owners and other community-based organizations.
The Dean of the Business School, William Bradford, was a key leader in
expanding the alliance and formalizing the vision. This process took more
than a year to complete but we needed the time to build a strong, long-term
The significant level of external involvement in the alliance will be
key to sustaining the Business School's efforts. Corporate and community
support ensures access to the resources we need to be successful. The
program is primarily funded by the private sector to ensure that we maintain
the balance between meeting our educational and the community's economic
As a strategic alliance is built, it may be helpful to examine models
that are emerging in cities across the nation from which to form a base
for local planning.
Developing Projects and Programs
Examining models to develop new programs is important, but it is equally
important to recognize that each city and region has a different mix of
resources and challenges. There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach.
Yet, there appear to be two general trends emerging through effective,
successful programs: 1) the provision of direct, long-term technical assistance
to small business owners and community-based organizations; and 2) policy
analysis and development.
MBA students from the University of Washington mentor struggling
small businesses in communities surrounding the campus.
Long-term technical assistance programs work with businesses from three
months to many years. The Small Business Administration funds Small Business
Development Centers (SBDCs) that are housed at colleges and universities
across the nation. Washington State University has a contract which allows
it to staff nearly 30 SBDCs in cities and towns across the state. Businesses
can receive assistance for several years through these centers. At other
universities, such as Yale and the University of Texas, one faculty member
runs a semester-long class in subjects such as business planning where
students write a plan for an existing, perhaps struggling, firm. Our program
at the University of Washington Business School sends graduate school
students to work with inner-city businesses for a period of three to nine
months. And Tuskegee University in Alabama is expanding their technical
assistance to include financial assistance through grant and loan funds.
A policy analysis and development approach has been adopted by the University-Oakland
Metropolitan Forum. This is a partnership of the University of California,
Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; Mills College; Holy Names
College; and the Peralta Community College District. The Forum has focused
on designing an improved labor force preparation system and conducting
research on transportation issues for community-based organizations. The
Forum works primarily with government agencies and business associations.
An approach that combines technical assistance and policy analysis might
look like the program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas which compiles
econometric and market research data. They make the data available to
policy makers, individual businesses, and industry associations who need
it for use in planning local business development.
Colleges and universities, like financial institutions, have multiple
functions. Financial institutions accept deposits, make loans, and serve
as a medium of exchange. Colleges and universities provide education,
conduct research, and are centers for theoretical debate. The type of
alliances and the programs that are developed in each community will reflect
the unique needs and resources of the region. But through alliances to
support economic development, institutions, individuals and the entire
region will benefit from the increased economic strength within its distressed
|| Michael Verchot is the founding director of the University
of Washington's Business & Economic Development Program. This
program supports private sector economic development initiatives through
consulting services to small businesses and research and analysis
of economic development strategies. Michael has spent 15 years working
in small businesses with a focus on marketing, public and government
relations, and general management. Michael received his undergraduate
degree from Springfield College and his MBA from the University of
Washington. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the
Technology Access Foundation which provides education and internships
for students of color and on the Advisory Board for the Millennium
Fund, a community development venture capital fund.
For further information on the small business technical assistance program
at the University of Washington, please call Michael Verchot at (206)
543-9327. Or, you can e-mail Michael at email@example.com