Helping Universities Promote Economic Inclusion: A Step-by-Step Guide

Posted August 26, 2019, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Young family in West Philly.

Drawing on its work in West Philadelphia, Drexel University has produced a guide to help universities and other large institutions expand job opportunities, increase wealth and boost wages for low-income people of color.

Drexel is a member of several networks — including the Anchor Dashboard Learning Cohort — that funders like the Annie E. Casey Foundation are supporting to show how academic institutions can create better opportunities for underserved communities.

“More than 900 colleges and universities are located in neighborhoods that have been subject to structural racism and disinvestment,” says Charles Rutheiser, a senior associate at the Casey Foundation. “Institutions that are pursuing an anchor mission are making a commitment to more intentionally focus the full range of their assets — including their economic power — to increase opportunities for residents in adjacent communities.”

A Foundation’s report, Race for Results: Building a Path of Opportunity for All Children, cites implementing economic inclusion strategies in local development plans as one of the ways to create a more equitable future for children of color.

At Drexel, two leaders — President John A. Fry and Senior Vice Provost for University and Community Partnerships Lucy Kerman — have partnered in this work for nearly a decade.

Early on, Kerman began attending planning sessions led by local community development corporations, largely in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

She also turned her attention inward — to Drexel’s own experiences and processes — and set out to pin down where, exactly, the university’s interests intersected with those of the local community.

Her questions for Drexel were simple: “How do we hire now? How do we purchase goods and services? What is the experience of local candidates? What are the barriers to success?”

Eight years along, Drexel has added more West Philadelphians into its workforce and implemented a series of equity strategies, including:

  • partnering with local organizations to offer adult education and workforce programs;
  • providing internships through Philadelphia Youth Network’s WorkReady Internship Program; and
  • integrating explicit diversity goals into request-for-proposals processes for large projects.

The university’s efforts — which have created new opportunities locally — fit within a broader national discussion about helping communities of color thrive.

The National Equity Atlas, which calls equity an economic engine, found that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product would have been $2.5 trillion higher in 2015 if people of color earned as much as their white counterparts.

Read Drexel University’s guide on implementing local economic inclusion strategies

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