Relationships, relevancy, and value: assessing community partners' perceptions of engagement with higher education

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engagement , stakeholder , partnerships , collaboration , service-learning , engaged scholarship , civic engagement , social responsibility , higher education , leadership , social entrepreneurship , social responsibility
Lever, Ginger Hobbs
External stakeholders affect higher education's academic, civic, and operational functions. Understanding community needs and expectations has become more important as colleges and universities have faced increasing demands for accountability, innovation, and evidence of economic and social value. Community engagement has emerged as one response to address these challenges and opportunities and created a unique class of external stakeholders. The purpose of this mixed method study was to explore the nature of relationships between higher education and a discrete population of community stakeholders who had been involved in engagement activities with Campus Compact for New Hampshire members. Three conceptual models guided the data analysis: stakeholder identification, profiles, and salience; higher education's level of commitment to engagement; and partnership satisfaction. Stakeholders perceived their campus-to-community collaborations as positive experiences, notwithstanding the challenges of communication, partnership development, relationship building, and resources. They perceived that they did have some influence on higher education and that collaboration was beneficial to the individual community partners and to their organizations. The findings also identified differences among community partners' levels of satisfaction with different types of college and university partners. Four conclusions emerged from this study. First, community partners were predisposed to meaningful collaboration. Second, the underlying structural and operational differences between higher education and community partners are potential threats to future engagement. Third, community partners expect higher education to fulfill its social responsibility and to lead the search for solutions to social problems. Forth, sustainable collaboration requires institutional commitment, leadership, and integration across the organization.