The CommUniverCity in Lynn

A creative initiative that brings together community partners, public schools, community colleges, and universities in a gateway city in Massachusetts. 

November 11, 2014

It's not very often that my home life - community organizer in Roxbury, mother of a fourth grader in Boston Public Schools, and passionate advocate for local economic development -comes together with my professional life - Associate Provost and Dean in Salem, senior international officer at the university, and passionate advocate for the future of higher ed. Yesterday, I hit that rare sweet spot at North Shore Community College in Lynn. Like Salem, Lynn has been designated as one of 26 "gateway cities" in Massachusetts, former regional economic centers that have had to retool and repositions themselves to take advantage of 21st century economic opportunities. Colleges and universities are key to this repositioning and the CommUniverCity initiative capitalizes on this designation.  

The vision behind the CommUniverCity at Lynn focuses on bringing together community partners, public schools, North Shore Community College, and Salem State University to create preK-18+ educational pathways right in Lynn and to link these pathways to careers. The goal is to reach students who would never consider college as an option, who do not see themselves as college bound, who do not see themselves as college material. To do this requires starting at a young age, not only with college and career readiness but also with college and career awareness. Taking math and reading seriously in primary school translates into a wider variety of career options as an adult. Although these are challenging conversations to have, we must have them. To do this successfully, we must go beyond reaching out to the students. We must also engage with their families and their communities and we must continue this engagement throughout their educational careers.

Students from financially vulnerable backgrounds are often one step away from dropping out -- one broken furnace, one cold winter, one tank of gas. When they cut a class, it may be because they were offered an extra shift at work that night, translating into an extra $40-60 dollars for their families. Successfully supporting these students requires strong support services and teams: coaches and mentors who start with them in high school and stick with them through their college careers, transportation services at the right times and the right locations, child-care services on site, and books, supplies, and field trip fees that are included in the price of the course. Our community partners are in the neighborhoods and can tell the academic partners what we need to do to support the success of these students. Now we just need to make sure they are at the table and that we listen to what they have to say.  

We also need to think creatively about funding. We need to invest in the economic health of the future today and we need to start with the kids. Nine out of ten students who graduate from public higher education institutions in Massachusetts stay in Massachusetts. Although Massachusetts is considered to be a leader in education, we rank 26th in the nation when it comes to state support of students in public higher education. According to a recent Vision Project report from the Department of Higher Education, within ten years, Massachusetts is projected to have a 55-65k shortfall of associate's and bachelor's degrees awarded compared with projected need. Initiatives like the CommUniverCity at Lynn are being developed to meet this need. If we're successful, we can replicate it across the state. We need to guarantee our success. We need to be able to replicate it. And we need to start now!

I am proud to be part of this initiative and I am grateful to be working with some amazing leaders on this project - Pat Gentile at North Shore Community College, Pat Meservey at Salem State University, Catherine Latham at Lynn Public Schools, Mary Sarris at the North Shore Workforce Investment Board,  Lori Abrams Berry at Lynn Community Health Center, and Mayor Kennedy in Lynn to name just a few!

We've work to do, in our neighborhoods and universities and in our homes and schools. 

Salem, Massachusetts in the USA.

Mary Churchill is Associate Provost for Innovation and Partnerships at Salem State University. Find her on Twitter @mary_churchill.


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