Economic engagement efforts include universities working with public and private sector partners in their states and regions to support economic development through a variety of activities – innovation and entrepreneurship, technology transfer, talent and workforce development, and community development.
“A central mission for public universities is to drive economic progress in the communities they serve. They fulfill that all-important task through workforce development, scientific research, and partnerships with private sector stakeholders in their regions,” APLU President Peter McPherson said. “The six finalists for the 2016 APLU Innovation & Economic Prosperity University Awards have all demonstrated a clear commitment to economic engagement and have delivered contributions that are transforming their communities. APLU applauds them and looks forward to sharing their good work with other institutions as a resource for all public research universities to expand their economic engagement activities and help grow their regional economies.”
APLU’s Commission on Innovation, Competitiveness, and Economic Prosperity (CICEP), which brings together public university leaders from around the country who are focused on economic engagement issues, is leading efforts to help public research universities plan, assess, and communicate their work in local and regional economic development using the CICEP “Economic Engagement Framework.” The framework includes tools for university self-assessment, metrics determination, and economic impact analysis.
The IEP University Awards recognize specific emphases in these areas. The “Talent” award (finalists: Montana State University and the University of Massachusetts Lowell) honors an institution with exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development; the “Innovation” award (finalists: Iowa State University and Purdue University) honors an institution demonstrating outstanding work in technology transfer, entrepreneurship, and business development; the “Place” award (finalists: Arizona State University and Colorado State University) recognizes a university that is excelling in community, social, and cultural development work; and the “Connections” category (all six finalists are eligible for this award) recognizes the institution that is doing the most to build connections between all categories of economic engagement — innovation and entrepreneurship, talent development, and social, community, and cultural development.
“APLU’s Commission on Innovation, Competitiveness, and Economic Prosperity works closely with universities to further develop and advance their economic engagement activities to help ensure they have the deepest impact,” said Jim Woodell, APLU Vice President for Economic Development and Community Engagement. “That’s why we developed the CICEP Economic Engagement Framework, which provides tools for universities to identify both institutional accomplishments in innovation and economic development, and also areas for growth and improvement. Using one or more of the tools as part of their self-study, universities assess where they are and where they and their regions are headed.”
To be eligible for an award, an institution must first earn the Innovation and Economic Prosperity University designation from APLU. To receive that designation universities conduct a self-study of their economic engagement activities that includes input from external stakeholders. As part of the self-study, each institution identified areas for growth and improvement within its economic engagement enterprise and developed an improvement plan. This work demonstrated a commitment to continuous learning and improvement in this kind of engagement vital to universities and their regional partners.
Applications for the designations were scored by a panel of independent reviewers representing other universities and also national partners. Scoring was based on a range of criteria emphasizing universities’ development of their economic engagement enterprise, their planning efforts around economic engagement, strategic communications around these efforts, and participation in encouraging economic engagement among peer institutions. Overall, 55 institutions have been named IEP Universities designees since the program was launched in 2012.
This year’s IEP Award finalists have undertaken a variety of economic engagement efforts, some of which are highlighted below.
- Arizona State University (ASU) in conjunction with the city of Phoenix has created a new Downtown Phoenix campus. The campus represents a significant public partnership that has garnered community support and enhanced redevelopment opportunities. In March 2006, city of Phoenix voters approved $223 million in bond funding for its development. Five months later the campus welcomed more than 2,500 full-time students. Today there are seven colleges on-site with over 11,000 students and over 3,000 degrees granted during the last academic year.
- Colorado State University created an Energy Institute to catalyze entrepreneurship in energy technology and spur the development of more clean, reliable, and abundant sources of energy. The Energy Institute joins with industry and governmental partners to create new research and educational opportunities. To date, the Institute has yielded $10 million in annual energy savings from student-run industrial audits and helped prevent 100 million pounds of Nitrogen Oxide pollution.
- Iowa State University created the Iowa State University Research Park (ISURP) in 1987 to drive economic development in the region through university-industry partnerships. Today, the park employs 1,700 people and houses 65 technology-focused companies. ISURP developed the infrastructure to guide fledgling companies through the challenges as start-ups. Four of the state’s last five companies that issued Initial Public Offerings were ISURP companies. And 40 companies that have left the ISURP campus remain in Iowa, employing 2,500 people.
- Montana State University has partnered with a variety of Native American tribes to help students gain hands-on experience by providing health care to reservations in the remote reaches of Montana. Crucially, Montana State works with the tribes to identify and then address areas of critical need. For example, life expectancy for Native Americans in Montana is 22-25 years shorter than for White Montanans, in part due to disparities in access to health care. Montana State’s College of Nursing helps its students gain experience by visiting reservations that lack adequate access to health care. To date, more than 10,000 medical exams and patient visits have been performed through this collaboration
- Purdue University launched its Discovery Park in 2001 to carry out large-scale interdisciplinary research. The Park works on solving vexing challenges at the nexus of food, energy, water, the environment, global health, and global security. Pharmaceutical discovery plays a major role as well, with research spanning several major disease categories, including: cancer, diabetes, obesity, immune and infectious diseases, and neurological disorders and trauma. Seventeen start-ups have been initiated by researchers at the Discovery Park in the past five years alone and more than 500 disclosures, patents, licenses/options were facilitated within the park.
- University of Massachusetts Lowell launched the Community Co-op Scholars in 2011 to help students gain work experience while still in school and spur economic development by addressing the needs of its partner organizations and graduating more skilled and workforce-ready students. Community Co-op Scholars receive a stipend from the University of Massachusetts Lowell to help defray costs of working what are sometimes unpaid positions. Last academic year, more than 1,000 students were engaged in co-op activity and through these and other efforts, UMass Lowell contributed more than $921 million to the regional economy.
Institutions interested in being considered for next year’s APLU Innovation and Economic Prosperity University designation and awards process, should contact Jim Woodell, APLU’s Vice President for Economic Development and Community Engagement.