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Portland State University
Ashlie Prioleau, Ed.D.
Executive Director,
Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) &
APLU Vice President, Urban Initiatives

Christel Perkins, Ed.D.
Deputy Executive Director, Coalition of Urban Serving Universities

University-Community Student Success Partnerships

Key Highlights

  • Provide grants to universities to help institutions tackle oft-overlooked barriers to student success.
  • The grants require recipient institutions to partner with external organizations in their community to address hurdles to success in the student experience. 
  • Collecting data on the impact of this work as it builds a playbook of effective community-university student success partnerships and sharing lessons.

USU's Collaborative Opportunity Grants work to advance student success, degree completion, and community transformation. Institutions awarded Collaborative Opportunity Grants undertake a variety of nascent reforms touching virtually every aspect of the student experience to establish the environment necessary for students to thrive. All Collaborative Opportunity Grants projects must align with at least one of five priority investment areas: strengthening the K‐16 pipeline; rethinking financial aid; engaging faculty; partnering with employers and workforce organizations; and leveraging community assets.

All projects in the Collaborative Opportunity Grant program must center on a collaboration between a public university and an external organization such as another university, community colleges, school districts or local governments.

Seeding Innovation to Deliver 21st Century Skills - (2021-Present)
These Collaborative Opportunity Grants (COGs) are designed to support emerging and/or innovative university-community partnerships that transform institutional practices, programs, policies, and culture to improve 21st Century skills delivery, acquisition, and transferability to the workforce, with a particular interest in low-income, first time in college students. Grants are funded through the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and are organized into three cohorts: Disrupting Structures for 21st Century Skills, Prototyping a 21st Century Curriculum, and Charting 21st Century Pathway Partnerships. More information on this cohort is below.

The Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Entrepreneurship Academy is a blended learning environment where proportionally representative students and ecosystem partners learn and work together. The academy is bringing 150 first-generation and low-income students together alongside 50 community members identified by community partners, the Jackson Ward Collective and Activation Capital. This 200-person cohort is  engaging in four learning modules: design thinking, digital literacy, business model canvas, and the art of the pitch. Students and community members are earning digital badges in these modules resulting in an expected 2,000 hours of 21st Century skills delivered in concert with Richmond’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. The program academy, coupled with a new entrepreneurship facility, the Student Storefront, will create ongoing and sustainable mentorship, networking, and employment opportunities.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and the Birmingham Business Alliance launched a Community Data Collective, positioning UAB students to use data to develop solutions to challenges in their city. The collective will drive UAB’s approach to using project-based learning to embed data literacy across the curriculum, build relationships between faculty and private sector data scientists; enhance students’ exposure to careers in the data industry, and meet a critical community need. In the long-term, the project aims to increase the number of students of color pursuing quality jobs in data-related industries to ultimately build a data workforce that reflects the demographics of Birmingham and meets the needs of local employers.

  • Non-Academic Indicators of Student Success - Basic Needs (2019-2020)
    These COG grants, funded by the Kresge Foundation, fostered community partnerships to improve access to and alignment of resources that satisfy non-academic and/or basic student needs in support of success. Projects identified and scaled new university-city partnership models that alleviated the non-academic costs that often serve as barriers to students.  Participating universities were: the University of Washington-Tacoma, University at Albany, and the University of  Toledo. Extension project participants included the University of New Orleans and Morgan State University.  This project concluded in 2021 with a report entitled Food Insecurity at Urban Universities: Perspectives During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which was distributed nationally.
    The University at Albany worked with external stakeholders to design a campus-based food bank to meet the needs of students. Through the institution’s student success software, the University of Albany plans improved the identification of students experiencing food insecurity and better communicate the need across departments such as residential life, financial aid, and academic advising to provide resources to students effectively. The university also tapped external partners and experts in the field to design the food pantry. Students from the institution’s school of social welfare and trained volunteers staffed the pantry and directed students in need of additional help to services that could help them persist in their college careers. 

    The University of Toledo partnered with Aramark Food Services to address food security and food waste, both on and off-campus, in the Toledo community. The university also developed “pop-up” food pantries that redistributed food waste in high-traffic locations and times where any student may access food. The university set a goal of recovering 6,000 pounds of food and redistributing it to students in need. They far exceeded that goal, recovering over 12,000 pounds in their pilot year.

    The University of Washington, Tacoma, partnered with Nourish Pierce County to select and provide culturally relevant food aligned with ethnic, cultural, and religious diets in the area. This partnership contributed to students’ sense of belonging and a community while offering equitable access to culturally diverse foods on campus. The project engaged students as researchers completing focus groups to determine and articulate community needs.
  • Collaborating for Change - Expansion- (2018)
    These COG grants, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, were designed to advance student success between public urban universities and community partners. In total, eight institutions received grants to collaborate, accelerate, and improve implementation efforts around sustaining and scaling student success.  Four of the eight institutions (the University of Cincinnati, George Mason University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Wayne State University) received funding for the first time.]
  • Collaborating for Change - (2017)
    These COG grants, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, were designed to ensure students have the required resources to apply the necessary instructions to be prepared for the rigor of college coursework and the tools they need to thrive in the workforce and drive positive change in their communities. The grants involved one or more of five priority investment areas: engaging faculty; rethinking financial aid, leveraging community assets; engaging employers and workforce organizations; and integrating and strengthening K-16 systems. In total, twelve institutions received grants to expand their work with community partners.

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