Towson University (TU) prides itself on its rich history of economic and community engagement. From its beginning as the Maryland State Normal School to its impact today as an anchor institution as the largest university in Greater Baltimore, TU educates and prepares students to be thoughtful contributors to the state. Reflecting on this 150-year history of academic success and proven dedication to improving lives, TU received the Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation in 2008 with renewal in 2015. More quantitatively, TU has an estimated annual economic impact of $2.1 billion on Maryland’s economy. While any economic impact calculation cannot capture the richness nor the full scope of influence the university has, it does demonstrate TU’s role as a driver of our local and state economies.
Economic engagement efforts occur throughout the university ecosystem, underlying TU’s widespread commitment to these activities and recognition of their importance. All administrative divisions contribute to economic engagement, including:
Coordination of economic engagement efforts at TU occurs in several ways. Vice presidents of each division meet on a bi-weekly basis as part of the President’s Council, allowing for communication between the various divisions carrying out economic engagement. This collaboration breaks down silos at the administrative level and allows for updates to be shared across divisions. Examples of projects supported through the President’s Council include:
An innovative approach to economic engagement, BTU—Partnerships for Greater Baltimore is a dedicated organizational unit charged with supporting community partnerships and plays an outsize role in supporting both community and economic engagement. BTU coordinates and strengthens partnerships throughout Greater Baltimore and across Maryland and acts as the contact point between external partners and TU. In addition to full-time staff, BTU relies on and benefits from the input and participation of the TU community through the BTU Council, which consists of representatives from each college and administrative division of TU.
Furthermore, BTU’s efforts are a key driver of success and act as a model for supporting economic engagement at TU. In addition, one of BTU’s five areas of impact is to support a “thriving and competitive economy,” further linking TU’s partnerships work with economic inclusion and engagement.
Economic engagement efforts are significantly incorporated into the university’s strategic plan—Leadership for the Public Good—through all six goals of educate, innovate, engage, include, support, and sustain. For instance, students are educated to be leaders and contributors to society; innovative academic research and/or community outreach-based research can improve the quality of life of our neighbors; engagement activities remove TU from the “ivory tower” to help ensure that our resources benefit our surrounding communities; inclusion efforts help to ensure that students from all backgrounds feel valued and welcome; support services in academics set students up for success in their careers; and sustainability initiatives emphasize TU’s commitment to the planet and future generations. By tying economic engagement efforts to goals laid out in TU’s strategic plan, university buy-in, and resource allocation are essentially guaranteed.
Economic engagement is also a component of academic program planning. As new programs are developed, approval processes require TU to demonstrate factors that include workforce need and a quantified market supply and demand imbalance. For example, new academic programming includes an entry-level Master of Science program in nursing, which will help to alleviate workforce shortages in the state by allowing students to move into graduate nursing without first seeking a second bachelor’s degree. Additionally, TU faculty can obtain course releases/research credit to conduct outreach activities, further integrating academics and economic engagement.
The StarTUp at the Armory serves as TU’s “front door” for startups, local businesses, and community members who want to engage with the university without navigating the main campus. As a centrally located physical space in downtown Towson that allows for convening, the Armory lays the groundwork for TU’s ability to advance economic engagement within Greater Baltimore.
Since its launch, the StarTUp has contributed to the economic development of the region and beyond by supporting 20 active ventures through a business accelerator program. These ventures have an average annual revenue of more than $600,000 and have contributed a combined 263 new employees to the state.
About TU’s self-study process
The IEP self-study process was undertaken by TU’s Regional Economic Studies Institute (RESI), within the Division of Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research. RESI reviewed materials provided by APLU regarding economic engagement.
RESI conducted an inventory of existing TU programming and categorized activities based on the Talent/Innovation/Place categories. During this initial phase, RESI also collaborated with other members of the TU campus community, including staff involved in community engagement and strategic planning. Focus groups were arranged for students, faculty, staff, and community members. RESI’s survey methodologist developed a survey for internal and external stakeholders based on the APLU IEP Assessment Tools survey. The survey asked respondents about their familiarity with several aspects of TU’s economic engagement efforts.