Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Models of Social Change: Community Foundations and Agenda Setting

Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Models of Social Change: Community Foundations and Agenda Setting

Article excerpt

Keywords: Community foundations, social change, agenda setting, college access

Models of Social Change: Community Foundations and Agenda Setting

In the spring of 2005, Janice Brown, former superintendent of public schools in Kalamazoo, announced a simple promise to the students and parents of her district: If you attend Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) and earn your high school diploma, the community will pay for your tuition and fees to attend any public two-or four-year institution in the state.

Two factors make the Promise simple and easy to understand. First, there are few conditions for eligibility. The award is scaled to the amount of time students attend KPS; a student must attend all four years of high school in the district to be eligible. Beyond that, a student is simply required to gain admission to a college and remain enrolled. The feature of the program few have been able to replicate is to offer the promise as the "first dollar" of aid that students receive. Simply put, KPS students are not required to qualify for other forms of financial aid - they do not even have to apply for federal student aid, as required by many other promise-type programs (Miller-Adams, 2008).

In the blink of an eye, the Kalamazoo Promise took the national spotlight as a model for community-based social change. Within the first few years of the program, community leaders from across the country flocked to observe firsthand how this midsized, Midwestern, Rust Belt town transformed itself from a declining 20th-century industrial city to a 21st-century magnet for economic growth in the new knowledge economy. Today hundreds of cities across the country have given the Promise serious consideration and more than a dozen have begun crafting their own versions. All have come to recognize two facts that community leaders in southwest Michigan under stood from the beginning of the Promise: It takes a long time to develop the agenda and it takes even longer to achieve long-term and sustainable success.

In this article, we examine alternative models for understanding how social change is facilitated. We focus our attention on a particular approach to large-scale, community-based educational change - Local College Access Networks (LCAN) in the state of Michigan - to answer two key questions: What factors serve to shape the social change agenda? How can community foundations serve to promote and advance the agenda? We examine these questions in the context of educational change within local communities, but the lessons are equally important for broader social change initiatives. The reader will note that we have taken great care to avoid using "collective" or "common" or "shared" to describe the agenda-setting process. In many ways these terms are synonyms. Currently, however, they connote particular approaches to structuring and understanding social change. In the case that we use any of these modifiers, we do so only in the most general sense of their meaning.

We argue that agenda setting is perhaps the most important aspect of the social change process and that the agenda evolves slowly. The Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ), for example, has risen to great prominence among the education community; the U.S. Department of Education launched the Promise Neighborhood grant initiative to encourage other communities to engage in a similar transformation. We see the success of Geoffrey Canada today and we are tempted to believe that it has always been a model community-based education reform - when other community reformers consider HCZ, they only see the 99 city blocks of education reform and not the 20 years of slow and gradual improvement that preceded it. It may be an understatement to highlight that significant social change takes a great deal of time and cannot be replicated as easily as observers might hope.

It is also important to recognize that there is no one, unitary agenda. At some level, every individual and every organization has an agenda or a set of priorities or programmatic preferences. …

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