Cleveland State University is now among only 361 U.S. colleges and universities to earn the prestigious Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Cleveland State was selected earlier this month as part of the foundation’s 2015 classification cycle.
“For universities to continue to be competitive they will have to be relevant, and relevant to the area that’s around them,” said Julian Rogers, director of Community Partnerships at Cleveland State. “Cleveland State is really making its mark as a preeminent university that is helping the region in solving some of its most challenging problems.”
The national honor recognizes strong collaboration between institutions of higher education and their communities on a local, regional, national or global scale.
The classification’s review process is extensive, with the foundation defining community engagement as a partnership between the knowledge and resources of a college or university and that of the public and private sectors. Participating institutions must provide substantial evidence of those community-enhancing relationships within their institutional mission, identity and commitments.
That connection should ultimately, among other things, improve scholarship, research and creative activity, prepare educated and engaged citizens, tackle critical social issues and contribute to the public good. Assessments of the community’s impressions, the impact of that collaboration on students, faculty, community and institution, as well as student learning are also considered.
According to Rogers, the application process required a combined effort between the university and the Office of Civic Engagement that could illustrate Cleveland State’s “Engaged Learning” motto in action.
“The meat of the application is highlighting the different ways in which the university is engaged with the community,” Rogers said. “Our office doesn’t do that. It’s the faculty, it’s the various centers that Cleveland State has, the deans and the colleges, student organizations that are doing the work. It was the responsibility of this office and this division to catalogue that.”
Through data collection and documentation, every university receiving the classification is able to demonstrate community-based partnerships successfully operating on the basis of “reciprocity and mutuality.”
They can also provide evidence of policies that embody community engagement in both teaching and learning, and diversity initiatives that clearly connect community-based engagement with the success of underrepresented students.
Cleveland State, which shares the honor with institutions like Tulane University, Georgetown University and Oberlin College, is now among only 240 other national colleges and universities with a 2015 classification, of which only 83 are first-time recipients. Of those first-time recipients, 47 are public institutions.
For Rogers, the classification — while prestigious — functions in a number of ways. This includes “third party verification” that Cleveland State is truly committed now and going forward to community engagement in northeast Ohio.
“Not only does it show that we are worthy of having it, but [it] also is an obligation on us to maintain and ensure accountability,” Rogers said.
According to Rogers, the university is setting a higher standard of civic engagement with the classification serving as a way to attract a new generation of students to the campus.
“If you look at what is happening in New Orleans at Tulane, they have really focused all their efforts in rebuilding the region — on being a part of that rebirth — and applications have gone up 40 percent,” he said. “So people want to be a part of something.”
Cleveland State’s path to earning the respected achievement was long, but made easier by department, faculty and student efforts to expand beyond what Rogers calls the bubble of the classroom.
These efforts include the Department of Theatre and Arts partnership with the professional performing-arts center Playhouse Square, as well regional economic investments of more than $500 million toward modernizing the campus and enhancing the surrounding neighborhoods.
Examples of smaller but more recent campus partnerships by the university include a Jan. 14 college preperatory seminar in conjunction with Cleveland State professors and the Parma branch of the Cleveland Public Library.
Last month, the Office of Civic Engagement also launched a new website — the Cleveland Engagement Project (CEP). CEP is aimed at highlighting the various partnerships Cleveland State has. The first stage of the project, which you can view on the site now, is Cleveland State’s community engagement work from the university’s perspective. According to Rogers, stage two will incorporate the regional community.
“Right now the portal shows from the university’s perspective what we’ve done,” he said. “We’re about to send notification to all of the community groups mentioned on the portal to provide their side of the story.”
In many ways, it serves as a physical portal for university and community members to connect their interests and display the very partnerships that earned the school its Carnegie classification.
“What we really have found is that this website will be beneficial to the community in connecting various parts of the university that are actually working on similar things, but just don’t know it because of the style of the university,” Rogers said.
The Carnegie Foundation has been recognizing institutions of higher education for their community engagement work since 1973. The next round of classifications will be given in 2020.
This article first appeared in the Feb. 2, 2015 issue of The Cleveland Stater.