November 01, 1991 6 min read

Adds Leo Lambert, a Syracuse University dean and a leading researcher on school-college collaborations: “Some of the most pervasive problems that are confronting the American education system--K through graduate school--are problems that the individual sectors--elementary, junior high, high school, college, and graduate school--cannot tackle alone. We’re starting to see conversations that are crossing the glass ceiling that once separated colleges and schools.’'

Motivated by the need to improve the academic preparation of incoming students and the desire to attract a more diverse student body, many colleges and universities have embarked on school partnerships with their own self-interest in mind. Over the past several years, the number of collaborations has proliferated, fueled in part by influence exerted by community organizations, businesses, and philanthropies.

“It wasn’t just a nice thing to do; it wasn’t just the right thing to do; it was the thing we needed to do,’' says Franklin Wilbur, director of undergraduate studies at Syracuse.

What is perhaps more significant, ob- servers say, is that colleges and universities are beginning to work with elementary and secondary schools on a much broader range of problems and projects than in the past. While it is true that many of today’s collaborations continue to focus on student programs and services, partnerships are increasingly tackling projects with more systemic school reforms in mind.

Researchers and practitioners point to a number of indicators that they say underscore the overall trend:

  • Two recent surveys found that 38 percent of private colleges and universities and 22 percent of state higher-education institutions are actively engaged in partnerships with elementary or secondary schools.
  • A 1989 survey of school-college collaborations by Lambert and Wilbur found that 1,286 colleges and universities were engaged in partnerships, a dramatic increase since 1984.
  • The American Association of Higher Education has established an office of school-college collaboration, which will help disseminate information and administer a $1.5 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to establish new partnerships. The association has also teamed up with the College Board during the past two summers to host conferences on collaboration, drawing hundreds of participants.
  • The New England Association of Schools and Colleges last year established an office of school-college relations--the first by an accrediting agency--and recently began publishing a newsletter on the topic.

Nonetheless, some observers say, because the movement has only recently begun to achieve a critical mass, it is difficult to gauge its impact. “Frankly,’' says Louis Albert, vice president of the AAHE, “I think the jury’s still out.’'

Until the early 1970s, direct partnerships between schools and colleges generally were developed to give prospective teachers a place to cultivate their skills--a relationship that dates back to the 19th century. Of the collaborations that emerged during the 1970s, some, such as the LaGuardia-Middle College High School partnership, still exist and are considered among the most successful. But many more failed. These efforts were often the result of individual firebrands who believed that higher education was obligated to reach into elementary and secondary schools and provide needed assistance.

In 1982, partnerships gained national attention in education circles when the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching helped organize the country’s first national conference of state school superintendents and college and university presidents. A second conference was held a year later to mark the Carnegie Foundation’s publication of an 83-page report that noted an upsurge of interest in collaborations.

Add to that the release of A Nation at Risk, the 1983 report that served as a rallying cry for school improvement, and many college and university officials were ready to explore the idea.

In their book, Linking America’s Schools and Colleges, Wilbur and Lambert of Syracuse describe four types of common partnerships:

  • Programs and services for students, including programs for at-risk students, college courses for high school students, and programs of accelerated study for gifted students.
  • Programs and services for educators, including inservice training and staff development, teacher education centers, and school-college faculty exchanges.
  • Curriculum-development and assessment projects.
  • Programs to promote the sharing of educational resources, such as the use of tutors and adopt-a-school programs.

According to Wilbur and others, the growth in collaborations has occurred across all institutions of higher education. They range, for example, from Pennsylvania’s tiny Juniata College, which circulates a chemistry van stocked with supplies and equipment to 25 rural schools, making state-of-theart instruction possible, to Ohio State University, which offers a testing program to help 11th graders identify their weaknesses in math; 80 percent of Ohio’s schools use the program.

While collaborations are present in all geographic areas, Wilbur says that urban centers with large numbers of low-income and disadvantaged students are prime settings. “I don’t think you could go into an urban center and not see dozens of creative programs that were not even in people’s psyches several years ago,’' he says.

Marguerite Ross Barnett, the president of the University of Houston, who has been involved with schoolcollege collaborations at various universities over the past decade, agrees, noting that an increasing number of urban university presidents are taking an interest in city schools and their students.

“We realize that those have to be our students if we are to help our country have a diverse workplace in the 21st century,’' she says.

The Texas Center for University School Partnerships, located at Barnett’s institution, is designed to draw scholars from across the nation to expand research in all areas of school reform, as well as to disseminate information on Texas school reform efforts; coordinate teacher training efforts; and develop math, science, and literacy programs for grades K12. After only one year, 100 Texas schools and 37 universities from around the country have signed on.

To a person, those involved in collaborations praise them as an ideal way to improve education. “It is a movement that will grow because it is very pragmatic,’' says Janet Lieberman, assistant to the president of LaGuardia and founder of Middle College High. Partnerships, she says, “work and are essentially very efficient ways to share resources.’'

Nancy Carriuolo, director of the New England accrediting association’s school-college relations office, offers similar testimony: “It’s sort of like an evangelical movement. Once you get committed, once you realize how powerful this is and how it can affect education, people become personal spokesmen.’'

Although it is difficult to predict what direction school-college collaborations will take in the future, most observers maintain that education reform will foster more partnerships, that an increasing number will focus on systematic change within schools, and that greater numbers will focus on early education.

Barnett warns, however, that colleges and universities can only do so much. “If there’s a danger for universities, the danger is overpromising,’' she says. “Universities can’t change school districts. Universities can assist parents, civil leaders, and school leaders who want to change school districts.’'
--Mark Pitsch, Education Week

A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 1991 edition of Teacher as Partners