Iowa campuses committed to the common good

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David McInally, guest columnist

This spring, the 21 members of Iowa Campus Compact will collectively grant degrees to more than 12,000 students. These students will join the workforce in communities in Iowa and across the globe. They will become neighbors, colleagues, friends, and hopefully, active citizens and community leaders. As president of Coe College, my obligation to these newly-minted graduates has been to steward the college responsibly and create an environment in which they can learn. But in my role as Board Chair for Iowa Campus Compact, I also have a broader obligation to the people of Iowa and beyond. Our campus community is committed to ensuring that Coe College maximizes its contribution to the public good.

First, Iowa colleges and universities must ensure that our students are engaged in their communities. The fundamental purpose of higher education is to prepare citizens for self-governance in a participatory democracy, which means that our graduates should understand public policy issues, have the skills necessary for creating change, and care enough to stay involved. When we look at our political landscape, we cannot be satisfied with the quality of political discourse in our country or in the ability of people with differing views to work together to find solutions to our most pressing problems. Colleges and universities can play an important role in this, and we need to redouble our efforts in preparing students for citizenship.

Second, we must ensure that the knowledge and skills embedded in our institutions are connecting with the needs and opportunities in the communities in our state. Campuses are full of people with expertise that can be applied to building strong, healthy, and sustainable communities with equal opportunity and shared prosperity. Until we are convinced that we have achieved those goals, we must be prepared to strengthen our commitment to campus and community partnerships.

That’s why the 21 college and university members of Iowa Campus Compact have all signed the 30th Anniversary Action Statement. Campus Compact and its Iowa affiliate, Iowa Campus Compact, have brought together college and university leaders to publicly state our commitment to take action to deepen our positive public impact. The statement includes not only an affirmation of the principles of public engagement, but also a specific commitment on the part of each college president to continue to take action in pursuit of the common good.

How do we live out this commitment? Here at Coe, our student volunteers serve more than 50 organizations in areas including animal services, economic stability, education, family support, food and hunger, health care, immigration and refugee support, legal services, mental health, museums and the arts, nature and preservation, and youth programming. In the past academic year, Coe students served more than 20,000 hours and raised over $57,000 in funds and in-kind donations of food, clothing and books. Coe students mentored and tutored over 450 at-risk youth in the Cedar Rapids area, and participated in 14 large-scale service events throughout the year. These efforts have an immediate impact on causes and a lasting impact on Coe students.

Iowa colleges and universities are diverse: two-year and four-year, public and private, secular and faith-based. We each have different strengths and approaches based on our own traditions and on the realities in the communities with which we are connected. In signing the Campus Compact Action Statement, we are not committing to do the same things. We are instead committing to pursue the same goal: the goal of more just, equitable, and sustainable democracy for all. The great people of the State of Iowa deserve nothing less from their colleges and universities.

• David McInally is president of Coe College and chairman of the Iowa Campus Compact. Comments: (319) 399-8686; dmcinally@coe.edu

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