Anchor institutions, properly engaged, can act as important catalysts for community stabilization. As political gridlock and economic instability increase at both the federal and local level across the country, these place-based, not-for-profit and public institutions must play a critical role in strengthening the quality of life of their surrounding communities. Earlier this month, Ira Harkavy and Rita Axelroth Hodges, of the Netter Center of Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania, released a Progressive Policy Institute paper calling for one type of anchor institution - universities and colleges - to contribute more to the public good. To compel universities to fully realize their "mission of service to society", Harkavy and Hodges argue that the federal government should utilize both "modest financial incentives and the bully pulpit" to facilitate this transformation.
As one of the most prominent types of anchor institutions, universities and colleges possess tremendous human and economic capital. As a sector, higher education has nearly four million employees, 20 million enrolled students, $400 billion in endowments, and $1 trillion in annual economic activity. As a result of their economic presence and geographic permanence, these institutions are important stabilizer in their communities. In order to effectively harness their resources for the public good, universities and colleges must consciously alter their institutional practices to "embed" a more comprehensive understanding of "civic engagement across all components of the institution."
Harkavy and Hodges believe that government must be part of this transformation process. They propose a five-part strategy to help catalyze and compel universities and colleges to embrace their anchor institution mission and realize their potential to stabilize local communities:
First, Congress should create a new federal commission—comprised of local, state, and national government officials along with leaders from the private sector and higher education—to forge civic partnerships with the nation’s institutions of higher education;
Second, the commission should develop innovative strategies for integrating federal programs and funding streams, as well as aligning federal efforts with these new local civic partnerships that involve colleges and universities;
Third, the commission should promote regional consortia of higher educational institutions to significantly and effectively improve schooling and community life;
Fourth, the federal government should create prestigious Presidential Awards for outstanding Higher Education-Civic Partnerships, and;
Fifth, government should provide support to colleges and universities based on the “Noah Principle”—funding given only for building arks (producing real change), not for predicting rain (describing the problems that exist and will develop if actions are not taken).