Rethinking Communities: An Overview

Jun 30, 2015Roosevelt Institute Networks

The Rethinking Communities Initiative is a Campus Network-wide effort to work with universities and their communities to identify and advance solutions that promote broadly shared economic progress. Students research and diagnose the local drivers of inequality and build strategies and coalitions to enact policies that contribute to shared growth and prosperity. We aim to meaningfully contribute to a movement dedicated to building an economy that works for everyone.

The Rethinking Communities Initiative is a Campus Network-wide effort to work with universities and their communities to identify and advance solutions that promote broadly shared economic progress. Students research and diagnose the local drivers of inequality and build strategies and coalitions to enact policies that contribute to shared growth and prosperity. We aim to meaningfully contribute to a movement dedicated to building an economy that works for everyone.

THE PROBLEM

Economic inequality is one of the defining challenges of our generation. We are experiencing a second Gilded Age, with the promise of economic opportunity far outstripping the reality of how wealth is accumulated.

We need leadership at the national level to regulate Wall Street and address trends in economic mobility, extreme consolidation of wealth, and rapidly shifting job markets. But in addition to legislative and executive fixes, we need bold and innovative local policy solutions that examine and challenge the current framework of rules that guide our institutions and sustain inequality. By working with and, when necessary, confronting the institutions that drive our local economies, there is an opportunity for a robust, multi-layered approach to ensure fair outcomes in our new economic reality.

THE FRAMEWORK

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s students coordinate and communicate with community members and stakeholders to identify the pressing issues facing their towns, counties, and states – an approach that allows for solutions to the seemingly insurmountable challenge of economic inequality to be work-shopped by those with the most at stake.

As a campus-based organization, we are focused on colleges and universities as Anchor Institutions, which are, by definition, anchored to a particular place by mission and infrastructure. Anchors can be drivers of local economies, but they first need to be made aware of their own potential and responsibility. The Rethinking Communities Initiative examines how colleges and universities can be used to create economic systems that grow community wealth, anchor good jobs to place, and address the very specific economic inequalities that exist in the communities around them. If the model and resulting solutions prove viable, the grassroots nature of the initial progressive movement and the ways in which it informed the legacy of the Roosevelts can provide a blueprint for how localized ideas can be scaled into a national agenda.

THE EVOLVING AGENDA

To date, students have taken the Anchor Institution mission in many different directions. We are working with a local Chamber of Commerce to better understand what local business leaders can provide to a school (Amherst College); supporting the development work of a local CDFI (The George Washington University); and examining the ways a school has borrowed money and how that has affected student debt and institutional stability (Georgetown). As the students drive the research and identify the opportunities, we’re seeing a powerful agenda emerge:

THE CHALLENGE: UNDERBANKING

One major problem for many people looking to invest in their future is a basic lack of resources and access to financial institutions. The inability to get access to capital for a business loan or to buy a home effectively restricts large portions of the population from participating in our current economy.

A SOLUTION: MORE MONEY FOR LOANS

George Washington and NYU chapters have led the push for universities to use their banked cash resources proactively by investing in CDFIs that are actively trying to serve the underbanked. Larger pools of money in CDFIs mean more and larger loans, and more ability to expand a local mission of economic justice. While this is connected to the Responsible Endowment movement, it’s a very specific offshoot that focuses on the positive potential of endowment dollars

THE CHALLENGE: UNDERREPRESENTATION IN PROCUREMENT CONTRACTS

Women- and minority-owned small businesses comprise 50 percent of all U.S. businesses but only receive 7.3 percent of business transactions. One of the problems confronting these businesses is an inability to scale to the size needed to take on a university contract. While there are small businesses in and around every Anchor Institution in the country, most of them don’t have the scale needed to provide all of a good or service that a university might need in a timely manner. Small business owners also struggle with jumping through the sorts of hoops that are often needed to become accepted vendors for many Anchors, and women and minority businesses are even more likely to be under-resourced and undertrained.

A SOLUTION: ACCOUNTABILITY AND DIRECTION IN PROCUREMENT

Existing small businesses combined with active equity-focused incubator programs have the capacity to bring an entirely different cross section of the population into our economic debate. Students can do the research to discover what their university’s needs are and match those against local production capacity, creating policy with clear social justice goals in mind. 

THE CHALLENGE: FINANCIALIZATION OF INSTITUTIONS

Wall Street banks are extracting money from some Anchors through shady deals and crooked financialization tools, in the same way that they have been extracting wealth from municipalities.

THE SOLUTION: MAPPING THE DAMAGE

Students (in conjunction with unions and other groups doing research about municipalities and state governments) are completing a series of research questions to map the scope and depth of this problem. Anchor institutions, much like many state and municipal borrowers, have been victimized by the same sorts of predatory lending practices that have crippled other sectors, and this research is mapping the relationship between the spiraling costs of college and the financialization tools many universities are using to fund their capital projects or their budget shortfalls. 

THE BIG PICTURE

These projects have a few things in common: clear connections to a source of economic inequality, clear methods for students to engage, and clear policy ramifications if and when small-scale projects have proven success in reducing economic inequality in the Anchor Institutions’ communities.  By tackling these projects within the RTC framework, they can lend to each other the coherence and logic that has been missing from other collective action efforts around the Network and build the strategies and coalitions we need to achieve shared growth and prosperity. Together, these small projects can meaningfully contribute to a movement to build an economy that works for everyone.

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Millennials Are Not Post-Racial: An Ivy League Education

Jun 24, 2015Riley Jones

“I don’t see race” is the oft-heard refrain of many Millennial men and women. Surveys have shown that people of this generation believe themselves to be more tolerant of racial differences than older Americans. These are young people who see the progress America has made in addressing racial disparities as irreversible.

“I don’t see race” is the oft-heard refrain of many Millennial men and women. Surveys have shown that people of this generation believe themselves to be more tolerant of racial differences than older Americans. These are young people who see the progress America has made in addressing racial disparities as irreversible. This sense of finality stems from a belief—proliferated in the 1980s and 1990s—that federal, state, and local governments have made a concerted effort , through measures including the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and affirmative action, to eliminate racial injustice in our society. To some, the election of a Black president in 2008 further symbolized a national transcendence of past prejudices. Because of these assumptions, many Millennials have failed to critically analyze the condition of African-Americans, who continue to face discrimination and inequality. This failure, in turn, has led to a dearth of substantive policy solutions to change the structural foundations of a system that has underserved too many for much too long.

As a low-income Black student at Columbia University from the South Side of Chicago, I am well assured that the breadth and depth of my experiences are not immediately relevant when compared to the experiences of my peers from more affluent places. Discussing Greece based off a literary interpretation is daunting when a majority of the class has seen the islands firsthand. However, I am certain that I belong here just as much as the next person. The influx in recent years of low-income students, most of whom happen to be racial minorities, in elite and selective college environments has provided for a mixture of class and race that has never been experienced on so massive a scale. From 2000 to 2011, the National Center for Education Statistics has measured a 12 and 14 percent increase in college enrollment for Black and Hispanic students, respectively. The wealth of difference between these groups has catalyzed the belief, in Millennial circles, that this is a post-racial generation.

There is a tendency, in the logic of post-racial America, to equate interpersonal racism (i.e. “I don’t like you because you’re Black”) with the racial barriers that structures and institutions have created (i.e. white students graduate from elite and selective colleges at significantly higher rates than Black students). Thus the students of the Millennial generation, and the schools that facilitate their interactions, are treading in uncharted waters when it comes to dealing with subtler racial disparities, and the results have been mediocre at best. The racism of our forefathers took the form of bricks and billy clubs, while today’s prejudices move more like an “invisible hand,” guiding young people—mostly Black and Latino—from urban ghettos to prisons and from impoverished schools to massive student loan debt.

Only by interrogating the structural foundations of American political and economic institutions does one begin to understand the fault in post-racial logic. For example, Columbia explicitly accepts qualified students on the basis of their economic indigence through certain programs. The retention rate, much less the graduation rate, does not even begin to rival that of wealthier students, who also tend to be whiter What is lost is that these students need different kinds of support than the university is used to giving. To say that race plays a role is to draw the ire of administrators who earnestly believe that the system is absolved of doubt because they are not personally racist. This is the work of structural racism: a demonstrated inequality cannot be labeled racial unless there is tangible proof of intent to discriminate based on race.

White Millennials, unlike their forebears, are not typically characterized by active interpersonal racial animosity; they are characterized by their silence in the face of the oppressive structural conditions that society engenders. It is not that people say that they accept me despite the color of my skin; it is that they openly express fear about walking in Harlem in the middle of the day even though the people they fear look like me. It is their acquiescence to and wholesale endorsement of a school that has made gentrification a commodity ready to be sold. The only way to truly root out this inequity is to call racism what it is.

Once the underpinnings of an actively unjust structure are called into question, progress can be made. Perhaps more accurately, policy can be made. The Civil Rights Movement used policy to effectively ban segregation in the United States. Ferguson and Baltimore have shown that the tradition of advocating for justice at the grassroots level has not waned; the challenge moving forward will be creating solutions that ensure unjustified police homicides will be prevented and not go unpunished. The outdated policy measures of the past will not suffice to rid the United States of its racial ills; we must show Millennials—the leaders of today and tomorrow—that racism still exists so they can press on ever more firmly toward its extinction.

Riley Jones is a Roosevelt Institute Campus Network member and a rising junior at Columbia University.

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Texas's New Gun Law Won't Make Campuses Safer for Women

Jun 23, 2015Emma Copeland

Texas recently passed some of the most conservative, pro-gun legislation in the country, which drastically liberalizes open carry laws on college campuses.

Texas recently passed some of the most conservative, pro-gun legislation in the country, which drastically liberalizes open carry laws on college campuses. With the aid of lobbyists and lawmakers backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the legislation is now moving forward in more than fourteen other states as well.

Student policymakers are a vital intellectual constituency, and it is imperative to include them in discussions and decisions regarding student life. The Texas open carry law virtually eliminates any semblance of student control over this issue and their campus environment. Although changes may be made on a campus-by-campus basis, the law expressly states that schools "may not establish provisions that generally prohibit or have [that] effect [on] license holders from carrying concealed handguns on the campus of the institution.” This is a limitation only on Texas's public colleges and universities, meaning students who can afford a private school can also afford personal safety and political choice. Those who enroll in public universities have those rights stripped from them from the start.

The absence of student input and the overwhelming presence of huge financing and pressure from the pro-gun lobby in the state’s original policy proposal is evident. These lobbying firms’ analyses include studies from pro-gun advocacy groups and anti-rape groups, yet students are left out completely.

I come from Virginia, a state with extremely loose open carry laws, and am therefore unfazed by a passing rifle or a handgun in the belt loop of my taxi driver. But as a student, I view my public college campus as a kind of sanctuary from the innate danger and threat that comes with a firearm in the street. New open carry laws on college campuses intended to decrease overall crime or “prevent sexual assault” simply increase the probability of deadly accidents with little hope of decreasing the likelihood of these heinous crimes. There is no evidence from city campuses in states with open carry laws that students are safer from sexual violence as a result of pro-gun legislation.

Constituents and legislators must ask themselves: is this truly responsible legislation? Studies have shown that upwards of 89 percent of sexual assaults occur under the influence of alcohol, and many others involve sedation drugs. Adding guns to an environment of drunkenness, recreational drug use, and violent assault is likely to have deadly consequences.

The Texas law and other bombastic proposals from groups like the NRA are taking advantage of sexual assault survivors and their traumatic stories and experiences. The NRA continues to engage in victim-blaming and guilt instead of responsible advocacy and after-care for survivors of these crimes. This kind of reckless lawmaking only leads to more long-term problems that necessitate further action in the future.

The idea that students need concealed weapons to prevent sexual assault on college campuses is a reminder that right-wing legislators are more concerned about financing their next campaign than creating meaningful and imperative policy for their collegiate constituents. Urging states to adopt these senseless open-carry laws connotes sexual assault as a natural occurrence in a woman’s college career—one that she must simply learn to fend off with a firearm. These pundits and politicians should spend more of their time producing progressive policy concerning the education, prevention, or after-care of students who will most likely encounter sexual assault in college, especially given that one in five collegiate women already have.

I have seen firsthand the ineffectiveness of my university’s efforts to educate and engage students and faculty on sexual assault as well as the failure of student health services in providing after-care to survivors. Inviting weapons onto campus shifts blame to survivors of sexual assault, perpetuating the idea that they are at fault for failing to protect themselves. The propensity for emotional damage to young college minds is astounding.

It is imperative to call for increased education instead of increased armament on campus. It has been proven time and time again that the right preventative measures achieve the desired result more effectively than defensive measures alone. The cycle of violence among students will never stop unless we truly change the policies surrounding our collegiate lives. In order to do that we must be part of the policymaking process.

Emma Copeland is a student at George Mason University, a 10 Ideas author, and a member of the Campus Network's Braintrust.

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Bail Reform is Key to Addressing Inequality in the Justice System

Jun 18, 2015Jessica Morris

On June 9, 2015, Campus Network Senior Fellow Jessica Morris testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary of the Massachusetts General Court on an act reforming pretrial process (H. 1584/S. 802). Her written testimony is reproduced below.

Good afternoon Joint Committee on the Judiciary. My name is Jessica Morris and I am the Senior Fellow for Equal Justice at the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. I am also a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley of Western Massachusetts.

On June 9, 2015, Campus Network Senior Fellow Jessica Morris testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary of the Massachusetts General Court on an act reforming pretrial process (H. 1584/S. 802). Her written testimony is reproduced below.

Good afternoon Joint Committee on the Judiciary. My name is Jessica Morris and I am the Senior Fellow for Equal Justice at the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. I am also a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley of Western Massachusetts.

The Roosevelt Institute Campus Network is a progressive think tank that empowers young people across over 120 college campuses and 38 states to civically engage with policy. As a Senior Fellow, my focus has been devoted to the issues with the money bail system in Massachusetts. I have compiled research on pretrial and bail reform in a white paper, which you can find attached. Thank you for offering the opportunity to consider alternatives to the state’s current criminal justice system, including pretrial and bail reform.

As of January 1, 2015, 606 men and women are awaiting trial in Massachusetts. They have not been convicted, but often because they could not afford the cost of their set bail, they are detained. There are serious consequences to this system. There is risk of losing custody, public housing, drug treatment, and jobs. Nationally recidivism rates are six times higher than those incarcerated during the pretrial period. Even when the defendant is held for only two or three days, they are nearly 40 percent more likely to commit new crimes before their trial compared to those held for just one day. In Massachusetts, pretrial detention is costly to taxpayers. The average cost per year to house an inmate last year is $53,040.87. Additionally, the overcrowding of DOC facilities is at 130%.

This legislation proposes a solution that ensures the Massachusetts justice system remains just. By shifting the otherwise wealth-based bail system into a risk-based system and including a Pretrial Services Division, there are more opportunities for people to transform their lives. Defendants should be assessed for their level of risk and not be disadvantaged if they cannot afford their freedom. The court must maintain the principle of innocent until proven guilty, for Massachusetts people’s lives and well-being are dependent on it.

Last Saturday, 22-year-old Kalief Browder committed suicide in his home in the Bronx. Kalief was an inmate at Rikers Island prison who waited for three years without trial. He was accused of stealing a backpack, which he denied. Because he could not afford his set bail of $10,000, he was detained at the prison. Kalief's tragic death teaches us that as a country we still have a long way to go. Massachusetts must lead the way toward a more just justice system with reasonable risk-based bail reform.

I urge you to pass bill H.1584 as a step toward a more effective and community-driven criminal justice system. Thank you for your time.

Jessica Morris is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice.

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Connecting Pediatricians to Local Anti-Poverty Resources Can Improve Child Health

Jun 10, 2015Missy BrownEmily Cerciello

Childhood poverty is growing in North Carolina. As of 2012, more than half a million children in the state are living in poverty, and of these, more than half are in extreme poverty.

Childhood poverty is growing in North Carolina. As of 2012, more than half a million children in the state are living in poverty, and of these, more than half are in extreme poverty. The health implications for these children are profound; research shows children born into poor families have higher hospital readmission rates, sick days, rates of chronic illness, and death rates compared to children in non-poor families.

As most pediatricians have patients who fall below the poverty line, they are seeing the negative health consequences of poverty. Pediatricians are looking for ways to address these issues, which are affecting an increasing number of their patients. Unfortunately, conditions of poverty—inadequate housing, lack of access to healthy foods, lack of transportation for appointments—are not easily remedied.

Pediatricians cannot tackle these issues themselves, nor do they have to. Across the state, organizations and agencies across the states are working to address these issues on at the grassroots level. After speaking to North Carolina pediatricians, however, we found that most were unaware of these local resources and the services they provide.

Our team of students at UNC set out to fix this by assembling a community health toolkit—a concise, informative database of local resources, the services they provide, and their contact information. With this toolkit, pediatricians can begin to address these larger issues. For example, if patients come in with asthma symptoms exacerbated by their family’s housing situation, instead of merely addressing the symptoms, the doctor can make referrals to an organization that works to get families better housing. This way, pediatricians can provide more than Band-Aid solutions to the problems they’re seeing. In addition, the toolkit benefits community organizations by helping them reach their target populations.

The idea of connecting pediatricians to these resources is coming at a critical time. The Affordable Care Act aims to shift the health care system to a system of value-based reimbursement instead of volume-based reimbursement. Under a value-based system, pediatricians are paid based on the health of their patients, not the number of medical services they provide. Therefore, pediatricians now have even more reason to look at the health of their patients more holistically and address the larger health factors at play.

What we have done by creating this community health toolkit is only the first step in what we see as a necessary change in how we approach health care. Research shows that the causes of poor health are multifaceted, so our solutions should be, too. We hope to see this toolkit model expanded so pediatricians across the nation can bring in local groups to help address the systemic poverty affecting millions of children.

Missy Brown and Emily Cerciello are recent graduates of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Emily is the Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Health Care.

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Protecting the One in Five: A Call to Action on Campus Sexual Assault

Jun 8, 2015Courtney Liss

Media coverage of Emma Sulkowicz’s performance art is drawing attention to a very serious and widespread issue: today, one out of every five women on a college campus has been sexually assaulted. President Obama himself spoke about it just last year.

Media coverage of Emma Sulkowicz’s performance art is drawing attention to a very serious and widespread issue: today, one out of every five women on a college campus has been sexually assaulted. President Obama himself spoke about it just last year. Worse, it is estimated that only 12 percent of sexual assaults are reported, meaning that far more college women have been forced to endure sexual assault while pursuing higher education than the official statistics suggest. Women do not and cannot have safe and equal access to education while facing this kind of threat—an injustice compounded by the fact that many schools discourage victims from coming forward, fail to disclose the scope of the problem on their campuses, and leave students to discuss their assaults with untrained employees.

By giving colleges and universities complete freedom in dealing with sexual assault cases, we allow them to make decisions in their own interests at the cost of the safety of their students. Often, this means discouraging victims from coming forward in order to lower the official count of sexual assaults on their campus (which have to be reported annually due to the Jeanne Clery Act). We need federal action to ensure that colleges and universities treat victims properly, report accurate statistics to the federal government and guarantee that on a local, campus level, women are able to pursue a quality education without fear of sexual assault.

After hearing from women on my campus, I realized that the issue of sexual assault goes beyond its frequency. Instead, a combination of factors—negative administrative responses to reporting, retaliation against victims from social groups, and the incessant questioning of victims (What were they wearing? Were they drunk?)—have coalesced into a far broader problem. In our current system, women are often left wondering whether it is worth the effort to go through their school’s disciplinary process at all. I knew I needed to do something about this—both on my campus and nationally. The one in five women on your campus need you, too.

How can you address sexual assault on your campus? The first priority has to be making survivors feel safe. On my campus at Tulane University, I painted the windows of our student center with survivor-friendly messaging: “You are not alone,” “We believe you,” and “This is not your fault.” Not only does this help demonstrate appropriate responses to sexual assault incidents, it also expresses support to survivors on campus. By painting the windows of your campus, you can display your #clearsupport for sexual assault victims.

But painting on windows alone will not create the lasting change we need to end campus sexual assault. We need federal and state-sponsored policy legislation. Along with other advocates on my campus, I tabled directly outside the painted windows to get student signatures on letters supporting the Bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a U.S. Senate bill that would establish confidential advisors at universities, ensure training of on-campus security officials, force colleges to report sexual assaults by raising Title IX and Clery Act reporting fines, and have colleges utilize “one uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings.” I encourage you to look up the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, or a piece of local or state legislation that addresses this issue, and work to gather support on your campus as well.

One in five is an unacceptably high number of women who have already been sexually assaulted. To protect college women from becoming a victim, we as college students need to speak up and out and demand that colleges make the changes we need now.

Courtney Liss is a member of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network and a rising senior at Tulane University.

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After Divestment, What Comes Next for College Campuses?

May 20, 2015Torre Lavelle

From championing civil rights through Freedom Summer to fighting sexual assault, college students have long made a name for themselves as leaders of ideas, activism, and innovation.

From championing civil rights through Freedom Summer to fighting sexual assault, college students have long made a name for themselves as leaders of ideas, activism, and innovation. It should therefore come as no surprise that the fossil-fuel divestment movement—the campaign to get institutions to pull their financial investments from fossil fuels and redirect that money to clean, renewable energy as a way of tackling climate change—has its roots in U.S. college campuses. With a total of $50 billion from 837 institutions and individuals divested so far, the campaign has succeeded at an unprecedented rate, growing faster than the divestment movements against both South African apartheid and tobacco.

Last fall’s stunning news that the heirs to the Rockefeller fortune were pulling their philanthropic funds out of fossil fuel officially confirmed divestment’s transition from campus movement to the financial mainstream. Combined with the commitment of more than 25 universities to move beyond coal, with more to follow in the upcoming year, student leaders and activists should carefully consider their role in deciding where climate change policy goes from here. After successfully pressuring the administration of my own school, the University of Georgia, to shut down its coal-fired boiler, the campus Beyond Coal group effectively called it quits and disbanded. But as pipelines for progressive environmental solutions, campus groups should just be getting started.

The Hoover Institution published The State Clean Energy Cookbook in 2014, which includes a dozen “recipes” for cost-effective and easily supportable policies that have already been implemented in both blue and red states with strong overall results. Now we need a new wave of student activism focused on building media strategy, coalitions, and administrative and legislative relationships to take this natural next step and enter a larger policy arena.

On the heels of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging governors and state officials to “think twice” before submitting plans for state compliance with the EPA Clean Power Plan, college students should examine the role of states and regional networks in advancing clean energy policy. The work of UGA’s Beyond Coal group and others must extend beyond individual campuses, and should strongly oppose any calls to ignore federal deadlines for state carbon plans.

Regional cap and trade systems are another critical area for post-divestment work. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) among nine Northeast and mid-Atlantic states became the first market-based approach to reducing pollution by selling carbon credits and reinvesting the revenue into clean energy technology and consumer benefits. With a goal of reducing 10 percent of power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions across the northeastern U.S. by 2020, the RGGI instead caused emissions to drop more than 40 percent from 2005 to 2012 and generated $102.5 million in revenue. An estimated $1.4 billion in lifetime energy bill savings are coupled with bill credits to low-income families and clean energy job training for workers. RGGI also served as the baseline policy model for California’s cap and trade system, the first state with a program of this kind.

State adoption of these programs has so far been lacking in leadership and provides an excellent road map for student involvement. I’m not calling on students alone to make this happen, though; I’m also calling on the Sierra Club, 350.org, and other environmental organizations with strong student involvement to step up to the next challenge. Let’s celebrate our victories while capturing the momentum focused on divestment and recognize that it’s time we expanded our reach.

Torre Lavelle is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment. She is majoring in ecology and environmental economics at the University of Georgia.

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Better Community Investment Will Pay Dividends for Colleges

May 19, 2015Emma Copeland

We need to start holding colleges accountable as anchor institutions that provide economic growth and stability to their communities.

We need to start holding colleges accountable as anchor institutions that provide economic growth and stability to their communities.

In recent weeks, the debate about holding colleges accountable has focused on schools’ responsibilities toward failing students, continuously rising tuition, and increasing student debt. What’s been overlooked is the role of colleges as a potential force for good within their more immediate communities. Indeed, one of the most profound ways a university can improve the holistic experience of its students is to invest more in the surrounding community.

Presently, many four-year institutions entrust the bulk of their money to low-risk funds or national banks like Bank of America. The money that flows into a school never directly returns to the community, and it is often the case that low-income residents near a college must battle gentrification, stagnation, or both. For example, New York University’s $3.5 billion endowment is currently invested in national banks such as Bank of America, Chase, and Citibank, none of which are directly involved in developing the community around NYU.

Outside of investment, universities and colleges spend a huge amount of money that has the potential to directly affect the communities around them. Big schools like Michigan State University, which purchases nearly $87 million worth of goods and services annually, could spend mere fractions of this number on local small businesses, causing them to flourish like never before.

As a student at a four-year public university in Northern Virginia, I know a few things about debt and personal economic stagnation. To say “the United States can’t afford the status quo in higher education” might be the understatement of the decade. So how can we shake up the status quo?

We need to start holding colleges accountable not just to the government but to their communities. As anchor institutions, they have the power to provide economic growth and stability and serve as cornerstones of their communities due to their role as large permanent employers with significant investment capabilities. They are also permanent physical landmarks that serve as points of pride for their members as well as nearby residents.

Colleges and universities tend to be huge anchor institutions due to their extensive reach in a variety of commercial activities, immense diversity of employment throughout their numerous departments, and the vital exchange of wealth between students, alumni, trustees, fans, and neighbors to the school. It is time for these institutions to begin making a concerted effort to develop and invest locally for the long term.

The first way we can hold colleges accountable as anchor institutions is by encouraging and facilitating responsible purchasing from locally owned and operated businesses for anything from food to office supplies. This would allow small businesses to leap into the big leagues, and colleges have a responsibility to support the entrepreneurial efforts of graduates who choose to settle nearby as well as the local business owners who employ their students and alumni. Even 10 percent of the funds earmarked for paper products for a large public institution such as the University of Michigan would be the number one account for a local business struggling to compete with national suppliers. Working with these businesses to help increase their production capacity and streamline various processes would ultimately result in a symbiotic exchange of tailored quality for vital business development. Colleges have too long relied on one-size-fits-all corporations to supply their food, office supplies, cleaning services, and more. In the long-run, establishing relationships with local providers enables both the institution and the businesses to thrive as each respects and relies on the other.

Second, universities should be responsible for investing locally. Universities often have access to far more capital than the cities and towns that surround them, but they invest in distant fossil fuel companies, huge national banks, or even Israeli military efforts.  As anchor institutions, colleges should invest in their communities through community development financial institutions (CDFIs). By promising to invest a majority of its cash-on-hand in the surrounding community, a CDFI is able to safely give loans to small businesses, prospective college students and families, and new homeowners. These kinds of investments improve the lives and livelihoods of community members not directly affiliated with the anchor institutions. This is particularly vital because non-anchor institutions like large-scale banks are often unwilling to invest in these low-income communities because of the economic risk.

Colleges are institutions that can help a struggling or non-competitive community find its feet. If we hold them accountable in the right way, as institutions of economic growth for the long-term, colleges can begin to boast many more achievements and far fewer failures.

Emma Copeland is a junior at George Mason University, a 10 Ideas author, and a member of the Campus Network's Braintrust.

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Beyond Divestment: How NYU Can Still Invest in the Public Good

May 12, 2015Eugenia Kim

The fossil fuel divestment movement on college campuses highlights two distinct aspects of the problem of climate change. The first and most obvious is that climate change and environmental issues are drastically changing our planet and require immediate action. The second is the responsibility of our colleges and universities to be stewards of responsible social change.

The fossil fuel divestment movement on college campuses highlights two distinct aspects of the problem of climate change. The first and most obvious is that climate change and environmental issues are drastically changing our planet and require immediate action. The second is the responsibility of our colleges and universities to be stewards of responsible social change. While climate change appears to have caught the public eye in recent weeks, this question of responsibility continues to be overlooked. Both of these issues are now coming to a head at New York University (NYU).

On March 26, a working group of NYU’s University Senate voted to recommend not divesting from fossil fuels. On April 30, the larger University Senate, which encompasses both student representatives and faculty, will also vote on divestment.

The stated argument against divestment is twofold: political and fiduciary. The report released by NYU’s working group is emblematic of the faulty assumptions school administrations across the country have about divestment. The report claims that it is not in the nature of a university to take a stand on a political issue such as climate change, and that NYU would be better suited to combat climate change through increased research investments. Further, the report states that it would be financially irresponsible for the university to divest.

However, the working group’s argument is self-contradictory. The university cannot simultaneously claim to have no position on climate change and actively fund research that works to combat it. Further, the sheer existence of climate change is no longer a debate; broad consensus has been reached among independent agencies and scientists that climate change is real. The political question that does arise is what the institution is going to do about it. The working group also fails to recognize that divesting from fossil fuels and investing in research are not mutually exclusive. The administration has the power to do both while maintaining its fiduciary responsibilities.

NYU’s arguments against divestment are in no way unique; they exemplify the fundamental assumption of college administrations that an institution must choose between the social good and economic profitability. This is not the case, but the divestment movement has failed to demonstrate that university investments can be both profitable and environmentally friendly. Advocates committed to the divestment movement must provide more guidance as to how administrators can better spend their money.

While divestment is an important symbolic gesture toward a university’s commitment to sustainability, meaningful investments in green energy businesses are a more tangible request, if perhaps less likely to inspire rallies. Investment alternatives offer practical solutions that enable activists to work with, rather than against, administrations. For example, Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University has not divested from fossil fuels, but it has invested in the Evergreen Cooperatives, thereby promoting economic growth in the Cleveland community, and still maintains a commitment to tackling larger questions around sustainability and climate change.

While these investment campaigns are harder to organize around, there are students who are interested in analyzing the economic responsibility of their universities, and student involvement in this process is vital. The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Rethinking Communities initiative is geared toward identifying and developing smarter economic decision-making practices for colleges and universities. The project is led by students who support divestment but offer smart and socially responsible local investment solutions.

NYU, for example, could stand to gain higher returns on its investments if it would simply move some of its funds from large banks like Chase into community development banks. By divesting just $500,000 (0.014 percent of NYU’s $3.5 billion endowment) from fossil fuels and moving it to community development banks, NYU could increase its returns while helping middle- and low-income residents get loans, promoting financial literacy, and providing secure financial services. This idea that investments can be both socially responsible and profitable holds true for universities across the nation.  

Students are important but overlooked stakeholders in university policy. They are the ones doing the research and asking the important questions about their schools’ social responsibility. Sit-ins, protests, and rallies across the country are the product of a large number of young people feeling left out of the decision-making process at institutions designed to serve them. These students want to participate and engage with their school administrations in making financial decisions and developing viable solutions, In short, these students want to be part of universities that embody the values they teach.

Eugenia Kim is student at New York University and a member of the Rethinking Communities Brain Trust.

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Online Learning Is No Substitute for Campus Community Engagement

Apr 22, 2015Zach Lipp

“Within 5 years the world's best education will be available online and it will be free,” said George Mason University professor Tyler Cowen in a September 2013 interview. “Arguably that's already the case.”

“Within 5 years the world's best education will be available online and it will be free,” said George Mason University professor Tyler Cowen in a September 2013 interview. “Arguably that's already the case.”

When I heard the claim last summer, I took notice. I was and continue to be an undergraduate with a love for online learning. I have watched dozens of lectures recorded on YouTube, enrolled in an unrealistic number of edX, Udemy, and Coursera courses, and taken a Codecademy track or two. But while I love digital learning, I also love the traditional campus experience, and I do not believe the former alone can suffice.

The public sphere is rife with claims that online education opportunities can subvert the American higher education system. The most recent barrage comes from Kevin Carey’s new book The End of College, which has generated many media reports and reactions. Missing from the debate are the voices of students: not just traditional college students, but digital learners as well. As a representative of both groups, I see the gaps in online learning.

While record numbers of students are attending colleges, they remain a relatively elite set of institutions. The costs of attending college are high and only growing, and student loan debt has expanded dramatically in recent years. Meanwhile, a treasure trove of learning opportunities is available online for free. Some see this as spelling the demise of the college; however, MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) completion rates are alarmingly low.

Yet even if MOOCs had the demographic pull and (at least) the completion rates of American colleges, they would still earn the scorn of academics. Digital course companies and colleges support competing purposes of education. As Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana said in his opening address this year, college can be either transactional or transformational. Yes, some students will always approach college as transactional, but a digital education, I believe, is necessarily transactional.

The college experience consists of much more than courses: as I have mentioned before, campuses teem with opportunities for civic engagement. Colleges around the country host speakers, rallies, and student organizations like the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, engaging students in communities in ways an Internet connection cannot. Moreover, these communities extend beyond their campuses. By fostering student education and activism, campus organizations foster citizenship.

Colleges are anchored in diverse communities that provide ample learning experiences. My involvement with the Rethinking Communities project , which provides a framework for students to expand and improve their college’s impact in their local communities, leads me to question how to leverage these relationships. My most meaningful lessons took me into the cities beyond my campus. We can learn an immense amount by engaging in our local communities, and there is no opportunity for this type of learning in an exclusively digital college. My experiences tell me digital education falls short of developing and engaging citizens, and as a result, so does the claim that online courses will replace physical ones.

Zach Lipp is a junior at Concordia College and a Rethinking Communities Braintrust member.

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