by Howard J. Grossman, AICP
There is an amazing number of higher educational institutions across the Pocono-Northeast. Thousands of students graduate each year. There are thousands of professors. The number of administrative personnel is enormous.
Consider what it would mean if these 16 or so institutions would join together to accomplish a single task, solving a problem that faces the region. The amount and intensity of support would be astonishing.
Each year, there could be a change in direction, so over time, actions could be pursued that are critical to the asset building this would bring to regional life.
Added to this group might be educational institutions just outside the region, such as Lehigh University in the Lehigh Valley, which already added support to the region through the Ben Franklin Partnership and other activities that prove beneficial to regional development. Just as the various community foundations in the region could collectively do the same thing, higher education could be a regional foundation that significantly adds to the quality of life.
Every higher educational facility has something to offer in addition to the graduation classes. The number of students multiplies each year, and while not all stay in the region, there could be steps taken to encourage more to remain, assuming the jobs are available to entice retention.
The combination of education and economic development is clear, yet more attention is needed to ensure the system works to benefit regional improvement. The history and contributions of higher education to local development functions serves as a clear and present reminder of what this means.
This approach causes economic development to become the number one issue and priority inside the region.
There are not, however, enough higher paying jobs in place, although there may be more than one might think. Perhaps a special study should be undertaken to demonstrate the extent to which so called higher paying jobs are prevalent. Such an analysis could be accomplished by a single or joint effort of organizations such as the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development, the Pennsylvania Economy League and the NEPA Alliance. The joining of regional higher educational institutions might be another way to implement this process.
In any event, the role of high education is already important, and could grow in coming years, based on a collective aspect, working toward a common theme. Each college could place a small amount of funds into a new source funding strategy, and that money could be used for regional goals and objectives from which each contributor would benefit through a uniform system of priority setting.
Imagine the capability of thousands of people working toward the same goal.
It would be a major focus that helps achieve appropriate goal setting. Here are a few ideas to enable this.
• Hold forum or focus group sessions at each institution and collect thoughts about how to best accomplish this concept.
• Prepare a regional plan that encompasses this strategy and includes “PODSCORB,” a public administration acronym that stands for “planning, organizing, directing, staffing, coordinating, reporting and budgeting.”
• Establish a web site that includes all the colleges in the region and those just outside, to showcase the benefits of a collective approach.
• Identify similar attempts elsewhere and study the results, also bringing a specialist to the region who can contribute knowledge and assist in the next steps.
• Establish a list of regional priorities from which actions that are best suited for higher education can be decided.
• Organize student, professorial and administrative entities that focus on utilization of skills to achieve positive results.
The use of high education as a tool for economic development is not new, but the use in a collective setting may be an approach that will have great meaning in subsequent years.
Recognizing the value of working together has a potential for moving the region forward and evaluating best practices for the benefit of this and future regional generations. To achieve these results, some new thoughts need to be activated and implemented beyond current levels and a Northeastern Pennsylvania Higher Education Forum may be a method to establish this process.
The Forum would include representation from the three elements mentioned previously. Perhaps three people from each institution would encompass it.
There are more ways to achieve the theme of this concept, but hopefully, out of a regional task force could come the best thoughts and experiences for the role a collective system would take.