Academic institutions are important centers for socio-economic growth in their communities and can be valuable places for discussion, meetings, and hosting performances. However many people living in communities around the globe do not have a favorable opinion of universities. If a college does not effectively engage with its community, the everyday citizens living in the surrounding area may come to view it as an elitist establishment that is merely there to help gatekeep access to higher-paying jobs and alter the culture of the community. There are many important things that academics can learn from the communities where they live and work, as the community may learn from the university. The exchange of knowledge and use of the college’s resources to benefit people outside of the institution is vital to establishing a college as an important aspect of a community and integrating successfully with the local populace.
The goal of higher education is to impart knowledge to people so that they can return to their communities and improve them with what they have learned. It is therefore commensurate with the objectives of universities to conduct and encourage community outreach from their faculty and staff. This can help improve the opinion of the college in the minds of the people living around it, and enrich the lives of those working within it.
Many colleges have begun to implement incentive structures for their faculty and staff to encourage them to create and participate in community engagement programs. Some institutions are offering grants, awards and including consideration of community outreach during promotions and when granting tenure. This approach demonstrates the administration’s commitment to community involvement and provides incentive for people to participate in programs where they otherwise might have chosen to dedicate it to something else.
Some universities are also using more informal kinds of engagement, like setting up stations around their city where community members can come and ask questions pertaining to the area of expertise a student is studying. These kinds of interactions help make the purpose and benefits of the college more tangible to those living around them, and allow everyone to interact in a casual environment.
It’s important that academics take an active role in engaging with their communities so that everyone can understand the benefits of universities and see the rewards of the institution’s labor, whether or not they are enrolled there. By reaching out, colleges can help change the perception of academia as a whole and help their community grow and prosper.