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Colleges work with local communities to grow - and survive

If a college thinks it is going to survive only by offering a liberal-arts education, ''it's wrong,'' says Henry Chauncy Jr., president of the Science Park Development Corporation, adjacent to Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

Colleges and universities are often seen as being aloof and secure in ivory towers. Yet, of necessity, many are looking for ways to work with, and improve, their local communities. With enrollments declining, costs rising, and competition among colleges heating up, many institutions are seeing the need to drum up new sources of revenue and use their resources better.

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These schools have a role to play in fostering local economic development as well, Mr. Chauncy says. By working with established businesses and attracting new businesses to their communities, the schools can benefit greatly, he says.

Yale is a partner in the Science Park Development. Chauncy says the goal there is to create a haven for high-tech research and light industry. Twenty-one small ''embryo'' companies are doing business in the park, and two large companies have signed contracts to move in. All but one of them have a direct relationship with some facet of the university, mostly through faculty members.

Many schools are land barons, he notes, with large, undeveloped real-estate holdings. Many have faculty members ready and willing to consult with industry on employee training. And some urban schools could benefit by teaming up with area businesses to improve their neighborhoods so the campuses are safe and attractive, he says.

Chauncy says Yale is doing what it can do best - serving as a catalyst for research and development. Yale benefits by helping to clean up what had been a crime-ridden area, he says, and by fostering a climate where faculty members can be involved in business without causing conflicts within the university.

In addition, the park is ''providing economic health to the surrounding depressed community.'' Chauncy says the companies in the park are being asked to hire and purchase services from the neighborhood when possible.

There are other success stories. The Stanford Research Park in California is a 660-acre complex employing more than 20,000 workers. The North Carolina Research Triangle, a complex covering more than 6,000 acres, is nurtured by Duke University, North Carolina State, and the University of North Carolina.

But for every success, there are dozens of failures, says M. Perry Chapman, a planner with Sasaki Associates in Watertown, Mass.

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Chauncy says the institutions must be careful not do the actual development work themselves. Development is an ''all-consuming, technical field,'' he says, best left to professionals.

And David Knapp, president of the University of Massachusetts, cautions that promoting economic development must be clearly in the university's self-interest. ''As you move the resources of an institution into the economic development stream, you have to be very sure why you're doing it,'' he says.

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