Chapter 12 - Community Responsiveness
Outreach and cooperation with the region and with the surrounding community are integral to Shippensburg University's role as a public service institution. Community responsiveness is articulated in the mission statement of the university as a commitment to work "closely and collaboratively with other organizations at institutional, programmatic and individual levels to develop common goals, share resources and invest cooperatively in the future of the region." Two objectives specifically address this commitment. The first is to "enhance and expand opportunities for students, faculty, administration and staff to become engaged in community service activities within the region," and the second is to continue to emphasize the role of the institution "in enhancing the quality of life in (the) service region" through such activities as economic development, programming in the surrounding community and shared cultural and educational activities.
A focus on community responsiveness is consistent with the standards outlined in Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education that indicate that "an academic institution is in a particularly advantageous position to integrate community service with its programs." Indeed, in recent years the university has reaffirmed its commitment to public service by consciously turning its attention to a broad range of local, regional and state needs and issues. Working collaboratively with organizations, businesses and agencies, the university is moving toward a carefully planned, intelligently executed and flexible program of community service that will enable it to fulfill its mission more effectively. At the same time, the State System of Higher Education recognizes collaboration between its campuses and external groups as a priority. Whether internships, service initiatives or applied research, the outreach activities of the university are designed to "facilitate the integration of community service into the curriculum ... (and to) strengthen our students' preparation for the world of work and community responsibility," as called for in the State System of Higher Education Imperatives for the Future.
Although success in community relations can not always be measured in the expenditure of public service dollars, Shippensburg University ranks second among State System institutions, contributing more than its proportional share with an average of twelve percent annually of the system total. The services provided by these funds generally fall into four categories. Education, consultation, public service activities and community linkages provide numerous opportunities for groups and individuals to meet the shared needs of the community and the university and to enhance the overall quality of life in the region.
The university presently offers extensive educational services to the surrounding community and region and anticipates appreciable growth in the near future. In addition to traditional areas of outreach such as summer programs and workshops that draw non-traditional students from the area, the university has seen a steady increase in enrollment in professional degree programs over the past five years. Several of these programs are now offered in locations off-campus, including Harrisburg and the US Army War College at Carlisle where the university's graduate program in Public Administration is second only to West Point as a source of degrees for general officers in the U.S. Army.
The College of Education and Human Services serves as a prototype for educational linkages to the surrounding community. Virtually every department in the college has forged relationships with major institutions in the region and, in many cases, with statewide networks. The Teacher Education Department, for instance, is the Pennsylvania training site for Reading Recovery, a nationally recognized post-master's program designed to train teachers in reading theory and practice. Shippensburg faculty and students from the college contribute expertise to regional schools, human service agencies, public and private law enforcement, the juvenile and criminal justice systems and government offices. A primary example of these efforts is the Center for Juvenile Justice Training and Research, which was established in 1982 to provide statistical data for the Pennsylvania court system. Over the years, the center has expanded its activities to include planning and program development projects for local communities as well as state-wide training programs for correctional and probation professionals at various sites throughout the Commonwealth. A further instance of the college's outreach activity is the Pennsylvania Child Welfare Competency-Based Training and Certification Program, a collaborative effort of the Department of Public Welfare, the Pennsylvania Children and Youth Administrators and the Shippensburg University Social Work Department. The program trains caseworkers, supervisors and administrators in providing social services to abused children and their families.
Vital to the university's internship and career development programs are networks with the surrounding business and organizational community. The Grove College of Business has been particularly successful in this area, placing over 600 students in internships throughout the region in the past five years. Many other disciplines at the university have also achieved similar success with placements, especially the departments of Criminal Justice, Geography and Earth Sciences and Political Science. Additional areas, particularly in the liberal arts, are beginning to increase and emphasize internship opportunities for their students. The College of Business has also been home for the last 20 years to the Frehn Center for Management, a component of the university's Institute for Public Service. The center provides a variety of training programs, consulting services and research resources to a broad range of business organizations. Programs ranging from Total Quality Management Certification to computer training workshops have enabled the university to share its knowledge, skills and experience with the wider community on a continuing basis.
Recently, the university has also decided to revive and reconceptualize its extended studies program that was discontinued in the early 1980's. This new program is designed to meet the needs of non-traditional students seeking access to educational opportunities beyond those delivered to undergraduate and graduate students on campus. The program will provide opportunities to link the institution with the surrounding community both through distance technology and through site-based course offerings. An advisory council with representation from the region will be formed, and Shippensburg faculty and staff will be asked by the Interim Dean of Extended Studies to participate in the development of possible courses as well as to provide ideas for potential off-campus sites. Several programs are already under consideration and others have actually begun-for example, delivery of the Reading Recovery curriculum at school district sites and a program for a cohort group of secondary teachers in the Greencastle-Antrim school district.
Consultation forms an important component of Shippensburg's service contribution to the region. Faculty and administration at the university are actively engaged in community enhancement in an array of meaningful efforts; for example, such activities as service on local and regional boards, presentations and applied research, and programs sponsored by the Institute for Public Service. Activities also include lectures and presentations, service on committees-for instance, the Tri-County Planning Commission, the Shippensburg Borough Council and the Letterkenny General Authority-and participation in local service clubs, historical societies and school boards. Students often join university professionals in these activities, giving the former a chance to apply the skills and knowledge they have acquired and to develop contacts that may result in future careers.
Faculty also conduct applied research to solve problems within the region through environmental impact studies, observations for the National Weather Service and statewide polling for a national news service. Faculty have also worked with such public service organizations as the Wallops Island Marine Science Consortium, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the National Wetlands Research Center. Consultants from the institution regularly serve local and regional businesses, often through the Frehn Center, and university professionals routinely offer services to state and local agencies.
Service to government and the public is normally handled through the Center for Local and State Government. The goals of the center are to assist in improving the quality of government in southcentral Pennsylvania, to increase citizen understanding of local government and community issues and to provide an organizational framework where undergraduate and graduate students have the opportunity to gain practical experience. To achieve these ends, the Center offers a variety of programs including workshops for municipal secretaries, clerks and administrators. The center director provides expertise and serves as a resource for several boards and authorities in the area. The center also maintains a library of specialized materials for local government officials.
The Center for Local and State Government is one of the divisions of the Institute for Public Service, which was established by the university in 1983 to develop and oversee Shippensburg University's public service mission. The Institute coordinates all components of public service at the university and shares its resources with the region. The Frehn Center for Management is also part of the Institute and, in addition to its educational activities, provides consultants and runs programs for businesses in the immediate area. Two very recent examples are workshops for Citicorp Credit Services in Hagerstown, Maryland and for Eagle Computer Associates in "LINK" development training.
Direct service to the community and to the surrounding region represents the largest and most visible aspect of the university's outreach. Student volunteerism is the cornerstone of this involvement, and it takes the form of both individual and group efforts. While there are no specific data to document individual activities, the Community Responsiveness Study Group concluded that hundreds of students at the university participate in numerous local causes, such as fire departments, emergency squads, church groups and community agencies. Organized student groups have sponsored children's fairs, food and blood drives, and various local fund-raisers.
Tutoring programs are another important element of student volunteerism. These efforts not only serve the needs of the local community and region but also provide Shippensburg University students with valuable experience. The university offers programs at the Scotland School for Veterans Children and in the Chambersburg, Harrisburg and York public schools. One such effort--Striving to Educate People (STEP) in Chambersburg--also provides Saturday and summer camp opportunities. A Rural Education initiative brings regional junior and senior high school students to the Shippensburg campus to acquaint them with higher education, and special education practica are offered in the summer for in-service teachers.
The Volunteer Service Office, campus religious groups, and Greek organizations sponsor these and many other organized student programs. All three also work on behalf of the United Way or in direct response to a need, as in 1997 when a fire destroyed the residence of ten students. Individually, the campus religious organizations are very active, supplying volunteers at nursing homes, Habitat for Humanity, local churches and elsewhere. Fraternities and sororities provide organized contributions to worthy causes as varied as Toys for Tots and the Shippensburg Community Center. The Volunteer Service Office oversees the activities of seven student organizations and serves as a link with community agencies.
While student volunteerism accounts for perhaps the most visible efforts, the university also provides a wide array of services, financial support and contributions to the community of Shippensburg. The Shippensburg Area Chamber of Commerce, the fire companies, the Mid-Cumberland Valley Police, the borough government and retail merchants all benefit from the financial support of the university. The borough government receives approximately $40 million annually from various taxes and service fees generated by the institution, and $25,000 is donated annually to the local fire companies. The Shippensburg Area Chamber of Commerce benefits from the volunteer assistance of the University's Director of the Center for Local and State Government, which amounts to a $38,000 contribution. Additionally, the regional police have been assisted with numerous services, including a mutual aid agreement that will be expanded in 1999.
The Office of Conferences provides residents of the region with the opportunity for involvement with university-sponsored activities including athletic and academic youth camps as well as programs for many other organizations. In recent years, approximately 8,000 people have been involved with such activities. The university conducts a full series of camps and is host to the Elderhostel program each summer. It also opens its facilities to the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championships and to the Pennsylvania Senior Games.
In addition, various administrative offices at the university are involved in many aspects of community outreach. Two very active examples are the Offices of Financial Aid and Admissions. Each year, the Financial Aid Office holds approximately 24 programs for local high school students, parents and guidance counselors and has recently initiated a project at a local school to help students complete their financial aid forms. The Admissions Office makes numerous special presentations to groups on the college admissions process and, in the past year, has become involved with the Ex-Pan Program, a cooperative undertaking between the State System universities and the College Board to deliver specialized college-related services to secondary school students and their families.
The university maintains a broad series of linkages with the surrounding region. Prominent among these are the Shippensburg University Foundation, the departmental and college advisory boards within the institution, a series of programs for the surrounding community offered by the College of Education and Human Services, and more than $900,000 in grants from the Whitaker Institute and the Eisenhower Foundation over the last four years that extend mathematics opportunities to basic education students and to classroom teachers. Efforts from the latter grant have resulted in the creation of a network of educators in southcentral Pennsylvania dedicated to teaching mathematics more effectively at all educational levels. In addition, the university has recently entered into a partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Cumberland County to provide a regular bus service in the immediate area that will begin in the spring semester of 1999.
The College of Education and Human Services programs involve offerings designed to serve and to recognize exceptional educational activities and elementary and secondary educators in the Shippensburg area. These programs focus on early childhood learning and development, honor leading educators and encourage innovation in education. Several of these programs are sponsored in conjunction with the Harrisburg Patriot-News, the Capital Reading Council, The Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children and the Pennsylvania Public Television Network. Major service to the immediate community is also provided by the Rowland School for Young Children, the university's laboratory school that not only helps train university elementary education majors but also enrolls area pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade.
College and departmental advisory boards have been instrumental in developing community relations. Composed of citizens from the regional community representing various fields, they have been of great assistance to the university on many levels. They serve as a channel for the exchanges of ideas and information between the university and the public and private sectors employing or needing the services of Shippensburg graduates. They are also helpful in expanding internship opportunities and in sharing trends and changes from the world outside the institution. This interaction keeps a key group of professionals informed about the quality of the programs at the university and allows the institution to gauge the needs of the region. A recent survey indicates that the advisory boards facilitate a greater understanding between the community and the university by bridging problems that may arise.
The Shippensburg University Foundation provides perhaps the most visible and the most effective linkage between the institution and the region. The foundation has been extremely successful since its inception in the late 1970's. With an endowment now exceeding $16.3 million, it has supported academic and other programs with an average of $1.5 million annually over the past five years. The foundation was also able to raise the $3.4 million in matching funds necessary to build Grove Hall and the Mathematics and Computer Technology Center. A major capital campaign for student scholarships and other institutional needs is now in the early planning stages. These funds are not only donated by alumni of the university but are also raised in the surrounding community and region from friends of the institution. Their generosity has been and continues to be excellent evidence of the value that these donors see both in the programs and in the outreach activities of the institution.
The quality of the interaction between the neighboring borough of Shippensburg and the university was not a significant part of the report of the study group. Town/gown relations, however, did surface as a prominent theme in the summer campus-wide discussions. While the institution has generally enjoyed very cordial relations with the immediate community, there have been some problems over the years and there continue to be some potential difficulties. Concerns spring from two sources--large numbers of students living in the borough and the perception of wide cultural differences between many members of the community and the university.
Both issues are perhaps endemic to a university town. Residential student housing in the immediate surrounding area can lead to possible difficulties in both directions; resentment and complaint by some in the borough about student lifestyles, and accusations by students of lack of acceptance by local residents. Each view contributes to current town/gown relations. For example, some feel that the local community has not embraced the university, rather it tolerates the institution without recognizing the benefits the university brings to the community. On the other hand, many believe that there is a growing acceptance as the university increases its participation in the local community. The latter is particularly evident in the willingness among government and business leaders to respond to initiatives and to work with the university, although there are complaints by some downtown merchants that students do not actively or extensively patronize local businesses.
Many in the community remain distant, even if they avail themselves of the cultural and other opportunities that the university provides. This may mirror the feelings and attitudes that first-year students at Shippensburg bring to the university as described in Chapter Three. Just as freshmen arrive at the institution not especially appreciative of different cultures and viewpoints, many citizens in the surrounding area tend to see the university as a strange environment and therefore something to be dealt with cautiously and at a distance. One attempt to deal with this issue is the use of selected graduate students as liaisons with the community, a program that is coordinated through the campus police and attempts to settle disputes between students and townspeople when they arise.
The apparent existence of a cultural gap between the university and some members of the local community, identified at the summer discussions, reflects in part a similar issue pinpointed by the study group-a lack of data on the effectiveness of the outreach efforts of the university. Assessment of the impact of institutional outreach might minimally suggest possible ways to address these divisions and would also help to identify methods of making university interaction with the immediate community and with the region more efficient and more effective. At the same time, it is also difficult to gauge the degree to which those whom the university serves are aware of the resources that are available to and actually used by them.
A related concern is whether or not the institution sufficiently publicizes its contributions. Indeed, the extent of current institutional service efforts is not well known among university personnel. To this end, it is clear that communications between the university and the surrounding area and within the institution itself need to be strengthened and improved. In addition, what the community and region indicate that they want from the institution-events and activities as well as educational programming-should be honored as much as possible. This would not only broaden the appeal of the university but might also contribute to greater community awareness.
The commitment of Shippensburg University to community responsiveness can be seen in the wide range of community service activities that connect its students, faculty and administrators to the surrounding area and region. These activities include extensive educational programming, internship opportunities for students with businesses and agencies, and volunteer efforts by all members of the campus community. Also involved are outreach efforts that provide university expertise to the area and, conversely, bring the surrounding community to the campus. Such service and interaction is integral to the institution's mission to invest in the future of the region as well as to enhance the quality of life in southcentral Pennsylvania. Both the study group and the participants in the summer discussions found ample evidence that the university is striving to meet these objectives. The following recommendations provide a framework for strengthening these efforts:
- Improve communication between the university and the region and within the university itself in order to strengthen awareness of university programs and services in the surrounding area and to sensitize the campus to the importance of community service. For example:
- Create and implement a plan to improve public information on campus outreach activities developed by the Office of Public Relations, the Office of Extended Studies and other appropriate units of the university.
- Establish an ad hoc or permanent committee charged with developing policies designed both to promote awareness of outreach activities and to encourage participation in them among all campus constituencies.
- Develop appropriate assessment instruments to demonstrate and enhance the effectiveness of the university's community outreach efforts. For instance:
- Utilize general survey instruments developed by the Office of Institutional Research and Planning in cooperation with other areas of the university such as the Institute for Public Services.
- Incorporate community service data into division evaluation procedures.
- Provide community service data to colleges and academic departments for integration into their five-year reviews and student outcomes assessment plans.
- Support and expand the efforts of the university to provide educational and innovative programming for the region through the Office of Extended Studies. This emphasis should include, whenever possible and appropriate, the use of distance education technology.
- Continue to pursue avenues to improve interaction between the university and the local community. In particular, involve more local citizens in campus events and activities, and build upon existing formal and informal channels of dialogue with surrounding communities.