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Attracting a Generation of Changemakers to the University of Iowa by Sustaining Community Partnerships

Many researchers fear COVID-19 will result in the shuttering of thousands of colleges and universities across the United States, as schools face steep revenue shortfalls and plummeting enrollment numbers (Bruni, Hartocollis & Levin, Kline). While large, public research universities have a bigger safety net than smaller private schools (Hobson & Hagan), the fact remains that business as usual will not be sufficient to ensure the longevity of higher education institutions like the University of Iowa (UI), especially as divestment from the Iowa state legislature creates increasing dependence on tuition dollars (University-Wide Budgeted Revenues FY2020). 

During summer 2020, I conducted informal interviews with community-engaged students, staff and administrators working on community engagement, faculty who have taught community-engaged courses, and community organizations who have partnered with the UI on various engaged courses or projects throughout the years. These conversations allowed for a fuller understanding of the scope of community engagement at the UI, and presented a few clear and unified perspectives: 

  1. Students crave the opportunity to build meaningful connections with community members and to take ownership of projects they find useful and constructive in building a better world and serving others. 
  2. Staff are eager to support community-engaged initiatives and have the expertise to do so effectively, but are lacking coordination across departments and divisions due to the lack of a centralized office, unclear boundaries as to who is responsible for maintaining and creating connections with external partners, and ever-changing institutional budget priorities and capabilities. 
  3. Faculty want to do community-engaged teaching, but not all are adequately trained or incentivized to do so, meaning community partners’ needs are not consistently met across various departments and divisions. It is important to note, however, that many faculty do have longstanding, successful, reciprocal partnerships with community groups. 
  4. Community partners vary in their views toward UI collaboration – while performance/arts venues (like the Englert and FilmScene) tend to have strong and healthy ties with certain divisions and departments, more service-based groups (like the Domestic Violence Intervention Program) tend to have a more varied and non-reciprocal relationship with UI entities. It seems that the more concrete, clear, and realistic the expectations are and the earlier the community partner is brought on to the project, the more successful the engagement endeavor. 

In order to survive both the pandemic and revenue loss from shrinking enrollment, the UI must act now to center its mission in civic engagement and community service and set itself apart from its competitors. Expanding engagement staff and funding, strengthening ties to local nonprofits and community partners, and packaging community engagement and service learning as a core part of the Hawkeye experience will make the UI a destination university that Generation Z actively seeks out.

Roof, J. M. Attracting a Generation of Changemakers to the University of Iowa by Sustaining Community Partnerships.