Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

"Rekindle and Recapture the Love": Establishing System-Wide Indicators of Progress in Community Engagement and Economic Development

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

"Rekindle and Recapture the Love": Establishing System-Wide Indicators of Progress in Community Engagement and Economic Development

Article excerpt

In May 2012, University of North Carolina (UNC) President Tom Ross simultaneously commissioned two task forces to develop indicators that all UNC campuses could use to measure "progress in community engagement and economic development." The charge to the Community Engagement Task Force and the Economic Development Task Force was to develop metrics that were both meaningful as a demonstration of the impact of the UNC system on the State of North Carolina and practical to collect given the limited fiscal and personnel resources available to campuses. The separate, multi-campus task forces ultimately produced one combined Report to draw attention to the interconnections between community engagement and economic development, as well as to create data collection and reporting efficiencies. This article shares the trial process through which six criteria for selecting metrics and measures were established, as well as discusses challenges and opportunities of developing system-wide metrics on community engagement and economic development. Analysis of this collective effort within the UNC system may inform future efforts to identify and implement institution- or system-wide measures and metrics that capture indicators of progress in community engagement and economic development.

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The short appointment letter that came to each of the 16 campuses from the University of North Carolina system's president, Tom Ross, set into motion concrete efforts to tell a fully compelling and true story: how the University of North Carolina state system significantly contributes to the health and vibrancy of the State. Earlier that summer, President Ross spoke passionately at the opening of the second annual UNC Engagement Summit, a day-long meeting of the campuses convened by Leslie Boney, the UNC vice chancellor for international, community, and economic engagement and organized by a handful of civic engagement administrators (including the author), about the inextricable links between the health of the university system and that of the State. At the Summit, President Ross shared his strategic priorities for 2012, which included the imperative to "unleash our faculty's brainpower in more strategic, targeted fashion" and the specific goal to "finalize metrics to assess progress in community engagement and economic development work" (Ross, 2012a, p. 4). He declared to the audience of higher education leaders, including community engagement, outreach, and economic development administrators that "(t)he universities of North Carolina must become more directly engaged with the people of North Carolina and the State as whole." And, further, that "one of our (university) foci must be to rekindle and recapture state citizens' love of North Carolina universities. There are lots of people in the State now who did not grow up with these connections...(and) we must bring the connection with our universities to these people" (Ross, 2012b).

The question of how to "rekindle and recapture the love" was a critical question tied directly to the fiscal future of the university system. The economic and political climate in North Carolina and other States since the 2008 economic recession has caused a number of state legislature representatives, and the public more broadly, to question what economists call "returns on investment" from higher education appropriations. In other words, how have the citizens of North Carolina benefited as a result of the State dollars directed to the State system of higher education? The challenge to value public investment in North Carolina's state public university system, the oldest and one of the best funded systems in the United States, was especially pressing as the system had experienced significant and sustained cuts (9.7 percent below pre-recession levels) since the recession (Mitchell, 2013). In his appointment letters, Ross charged the Task Forces to "identify (annual) system-wide engagement metrics, so that by the end of this calendar year we can have consensus on what to count and a strategy on how to count them" (T. …

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