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Structure Seen Needed in College Links

By Robert Rothman — April 02, 1986 4 min read

Kansas City, Mo.

School-university partnerships, which have emerged during the school-reform era as a promising approach to bolstering the academic programs of urban districts, cannot continue to be effective unless both “partners” institutionalize their relationship.

That was the message at a conference here of 16 university-school collaboratives sponsored by the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.

“If you don’t institutionalize, it won’t continue,” said Eugene E. Eubanks, dean of education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which is engaged in a number of projects involving metropolitan-area school districts.

He argued, however, that the changing school population, including a higher proportion of poor and minority students, “demands” that urban universities increase their involvement with public schools.

Mr. Eubanks and others said that becoming institutionalized means that such programs will have stable and predictable funding and a formal organizational structure to buffer them from shifts in school-district or university leadership. “It is difficult to think about the future substantively if you are fighting for survival,” said Alan Weisberg, director of the Oakland Alliance, a collaborative involving the Oakland Public Schools, three colleges, local businesses, and city government.

But while representatives of several collaboratives reported that they are becoming part of both university and school structures, others said they still must plead for legitimacy and funding.

The meeting here was the third national conference of participants in the NASULGC collaborative project, which was created in 1981 with support from the Ford Foundation. At previous meetings, participants outlined goals and strategies for establishing collaborative programs.

At this year’s session, attended mostly by university officials, the participants discussed not only ways to keep the programs moving but also their efforts to assess the progress that the projects have made thus far. Donald W. Mocker, professor of education at U.M.K.C. and a NASULGC fellow, said he is undertaking a study of the NASULGC programs.

In addition, Douglas Mickelson, coordinator of joint projects between the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Public Schools, is using a $40,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to study obstacles to university-school collaboration, and ways those obstacles can be overcome.

The NASULGC collaborative program, the largest of several national efforts aimed at fostering links between urban schools and universities, has spawned a wide range of activities.

“We did not dictate what issues to address,” said Nevin Brown, NASULGC’S assistant director for urban affairs. ''There are different problems in different metropolitan areas.”

Among the projects:

  • In Kansas City, the university has formed a consortium with 16 area school districts known as the Metropolitan Area Schools Project. Among other efforts, the project has formed a mathematics-physics institute at the university’s Truman Campus, where about 70 seniors from eight area high schools take classes for two hours each day, then return to their schools.
    In addition, because of the links formed between the university and the Kansas City School District, the superintendent of schools invited Mr. Eubanks to serve as consultant for a year, to draw up a plan for improving the school system. The following year, he served as deputy superintendent to implement the plan.
  • In Buffalo, the State University of New York at Buffalo is planning a magnet school to teach critical thinking for local students at all ability levels.
  • In Milwaukee, the collaborative has prepared a series of projects aimed at helping students select courses. One of its goals is to increase the number of minority and disadvantaged students applying to postsecondary institutions.
  • In Detroit, Wayne State University has invited between 400 and 500 high-school juniors to campus on Saturdays for accelerated course work in sciences and humanities.
  • In Boston, a consortium of24 colleges and universities has worked with local businesses to form the Boston Compact, providing staff training, curriculum assistance, management assistance, and leadership training for the Boston Public Schools. As part of the compact, employers have pledged to make a certain number of entry-level jobs available to local high-school graduates, the college consortium has pledged to increase the rate of postsecondary attendance, and school officials have pledged to reduce absenteeism and the dropout rate.

Cooperative Spirit

According to Mr. Brown, the programs that have been the most successful are those in which the schools and universities have worked together cooperatively.

“To the degree that we can show any success, those making the most I progress have been those where there has been collaboration,” he said.

Another critical factor, Mr. Brown said, is the extent to which the leadership of the schools and the universities have been involved in making the collaborative a high priority. He noted that in Milwaukee, the leaders of the university and the school district “were willing to define this as a major priority.”

By contrast, collaboration in Cincinnati has been slow in getting under way, according to Maria Kreppel, associate provost of the University of Cincinnati, because school and university leaders have not committed themselves to it. She said she had not heard of the program before she moved to the provost’s office.

Moreover, she noted, the university and the school district have undergone considerable turnover in personnel in the last few years, making continuity difficult.

But the current leadership is devoting a greater effort to the collaborative, according to Ms. Kreppel. “We will see if we can’t get a mature program working,” she said. “If we can’t, then let’s not have it. There’s no sense in having a ghost of a program.”

A version of this article appeared in the April 02, 1986 edition of Education Week


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