Today, college after college, urban and rural, from the tiniest liberal-arts institution to the sprawling research university, is pitching itself as a driver of economic revitalization, its region’s greatest competitive asset. Universities’ very presence, the rhetoric seems to suggest, can spur a metamorphosis from decaying factory town to 21st-century knowledge hub.
At a time when the dominant narrative casts the value of college in purely personal terms — an advantage that accrues to the individual graduate — the economic-development pitch comes off as refreshingly retrograde, a throwback. It posits the university as a benefit to the broader community, not just the collegegoer. It’s one last go at the public-good case for higher education.
And no wonder. State budgets have been tight. Hollowed out by the downturn, cities hope to harness every last economic asset. The economic-development argument “answers the question,” says Leslie Boney, vice president for international, community, and economic engagement at the University of North Carolina system, “what have you done for me lately?”
Or does it? The vision of universities as a causal force in the economic renaissance of cities and towns is an attractive one, no doubt. <Read more.>