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Working in Partnership

It may be self evident that an institution that has embarked on a mission to be a locally engaged anchor cannot do the work in isolation, but the notion is worth emphasizing. The durability of the mission does require a set of champions and implementers inside the institution, but it also requires sustained collaboration with strong, relevant, and reputable external partners.

As a higher education institution, Drexel commits to a core mission to educate and to generate knowledge, and we have a set of institutional competencies that help us advance that particular mission. Broadening the idea of a higher-ed mission to encompass an intentional presence as an economic anchor can present challenges to these core institutional competencies. This is why identifying local partners with specific expertise has been an essential part of building our anchor strategy.

As we understood the need to create a system of adult education and job training that would help local jobseekers meet the education requirements for jobs in our institution and with our major vendors, we also acknowledged that we do not have the institutional experience needed to operate an effective GED/high school completion program. But we could identify that our anchor mission was aligned with the interests of local workforce access NGOs, who were already invested in getting Philadelphians into family sustaining work. Teaming up with organizations who know how to operate an adult education program, or who know how to match the workforce needs of an institution like ours to the available local talent has been a critical part of our process.

Most importantly it must also be said that creating a more intentional presence in our neighboring communities could not happen without first creating an ongoing working relationships with neighborhood leadership. The history of American higher education growth has been marred by poor treatment of low income neighborhoods; Drexel’s own history is not an exception and it has been crucial for us to understand that long-time families who live near our campus hold memories of loss and change connected to campus development. Ameliorating the distrust that this history has generated calls for a long-term commitment to continuously work on our relationships with neighbors. Our university leadership sits regularly with civic association leadership to listen and hear criticism and feedback; this creates space for us to take the lead of neighborhood residents as we plan together for the neighborhood’s future.

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