A Community College Guide to Community Engagement & Strategic Partnerships

Most often, large-scale institutional change work at colleges is viewed as an expert-driven process. It tends to go something like this: Get the best information, bring trained minds to bear, make the best decision with internal and external expertise, and only then reach out to wider audiences to persuade them to sign on. Those outside the circle of internal decision makers are viewed as audiences to be educated or persuaded, or sometimes as problems to be managed. Rarely are they seen as vital resources for achieving student success goals.

Authentic community engagement, by contrast, involves substantive give and take with those outside the college who have an interest in the decisions that are made, or who potentially have a role to play in strengthening the college’s work. Such engagement efforts begin with a commitment to building new or improved forms of partnership across various silos and boundaries with those in the community and region who may not be deeply familiar with the work of the college and the needs of its students.

This guide is a starting point for community engagement efforts to ensure work begins on strong footing. It outlines general principles of effective engagement, and provides tools and resources to support effective broad-based community engagement practices. This includes a discussion starter on improving community partnerships and a self-assessment tool for facilitators.

We recommend that a cross-functional team within the college be charged with spearheading community engagement efforts and that this team be empowered to plan, organize and conduct a range of engagement activities that are carefully aligned with the overarching goals and near-term student success priorities of the college.

As the group pursues its community engagement strategy, expanding involvement to include key community partners, allies or friendly critics will help strengthen and protect these efforts.

This guide is part of a project supported by The Kresge Foundation.