Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2012, 6:00 am
Augustana working to become an even better neighbor
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By Roger Ruthhart
Augustana College has always been a good neighbor in Rock Island -- even if, on occasion, its off-campus students weren't. We have been enjoying a period of great synergy lately and there's no reason to believe that won't continue.
Schools like Augie and Western Illinois University Quad-Cities are ideal for towns the size of Moline and Rock Island because you don't run the risk of having college or university policy dictating affecting the greater community.
Augustana and its surrounding neighborhoods have grown and evolved together. Whether it's the school, businesses, or residential areas, all seem to be flourishing as a result of each other.
Earlier this year our editorial board met with Steven Bahls, Augustana president, and some of his staff. He told us that the college was committed to spending the next year looking at ways it can be even more beneficial to the Rock Island community.
A number of other schools around the country have taken impressive steps and Augustana is studying them to see if they can provide some ideas that could be incorporated here.
Of course Augustana already has some significant community outreach through the Community Engagement Center. Programs include such things as internships, vocational reflection, community service programs, international and off-campus education, and volunteer community engagement programs.
But that doesn't mean they aren't looking for other ideas.
The Augustana administration has identified a number of colleges which have programs of interest. Here are a few examples.
Trinity College, in Hartford, Conn., provides almost a million dollars in direct financial aid to undergraduate students who are Hartford residents.
Trinity and Hartford Public Schools have teamed up to expand the award-winning Hartford Magnet Middle School into a grade 6 through 12 academy that emphasizes college preparedness, the sciences and the visual and performing arts.
Trinity offers tuition waivers to qualified employees of the city of Hartford, Hartford Hospital and the Connecticut Children's Medical Center.
The school's Center for Urban and Global Studies has advanced teaching, research and service in urban and global studies on campus, in Hartford and around the world. The center's Community Learning Initiative is a vehicle for students and faculty to get involved in the city's neighborhoods with a wide variety of programs and initiatives. This includes a interdisciplinary urban studies minor.
The school's president is deeply involved in the community and nearly 1,000 Trinity students participate in community projects during each academic year.
"As one of only a handful of liberal arts colleges in a capital city and one of a small number in an urban environment, Trinity understands that its fate is inextricably linked to that of Hartford. It's in Trinity's best interest to help make the city a vital, vibrant and safe place to live work and receive an education," Michele Jacklin, director of media relations told me.
"But we also understand that our students benefit greatly from the social, cultural and economic opportunities that are afforded to them, ranging from research internships at some of the finest hospitals in the country to the opportunity to mentor underprivileged school children and learn from that experience.
"The college recently became involved in a home-ownership incentive program that each year will provide five $10,000 grants to eligible employees to buy houses or condominiums in the city," she explained.
Similar programs are under way at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. For instance, the college is a founding partner of the James Street Improvement District created to build safe, clean and vibrant neighborhoods in the northwest sector of Lancaster.
The college's board of trustees approved a four-year residency policy requiring all students to live in college-approved facilities and then teamed up with private developers to build housing for juniors and seniors. The college now has better oversight of safety and minor behavioral issues. Students off campus must sign a Code of Conduct that they agree to live under. Students in Greek houses have additional regulations.
The college's City Life program makes it easier for college employees to buy and renovate homes in neighborhoods adjacent to the college. The school partners with a local bank to offer low-interest rates and extra cash to help with closing costs. Since 2004 the college has invested $657,000 in the program.
One evening a month, a consortium of neighbors, businesses, professionals and school administrators meet to discuss items of interest to all and provide feedback to the college on current and planned projects.
Those are examples of what is going on in college community relations at just two schools and there are a number of others on Augie's check list. The goal, Mr. Bahls said, is to have a plan that will outline how the college can better serve the community.
Augustana's outreach efforts have attained a new high under Mr. Bahls' administration, but it appears it isn't done yet. It will be exciting to see what they do to become even better neighbors.
Perhaps Augustana College will soon be the school that other colleges are trying to emulate.
Roger Ruthhart is managing editor of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.