In times of crisis, colleges and other educational institutions can bring stability to communities. Most colleges have the goal of making the world a better place. But only some colleges are proactively practicing what they preach. It can be hard to immediately identify which colleges are making a difference, not just through educating students but also by running programs that improve people’s lives. This article is going to highlight 30 colleges that are setting an incredible example by doing so.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted higher education in a way that was previously unimaginable. Many colleges across the US and the world are facing budget shortfalls. However, some colleges have rapidly adapted to coronavirus. They have been able to not just protect themselves but offer support to a range of communities, on a local, national, and international scale. Some colleges have adapted existing programs. Others have created new programs. But all of these colleges stand out for aiding the vulnerable throughout this crisis.
No one knows just how much devastation coronavirus will cause. But it has already been extensive. Colleges occupy a unique position in the coronavirus crisis. Most American colleges are not government entities. Yet they are incredibly powerful forces in the world of health, economics, and technology. Because of this, many people have turned to colleges for aid during the pandemic. Some have really delivered.
Any one of the colleges on this list is a great choice for any prospective student who wants to attend a college that is proactively helping vulnerable communities. However, it’s also entirely possible that none of the colleges below are right for you. If that’s the case, then this article can still be a vital resource. Every entry has a detailed summary of the community outreach that the college is performing and how it is doing it. These have been included so that you can compare and contrast with your own college options. If any of your college choices are reaching out to communities like the colleges below, then that’s a strong sign that they’re colleges worth attending.
There have already been a number of lists published regarding colleges that are conducting admirable community outreach efforts. However, in light of coronavirus, many outreach activities have changed. This article updates those previous entries, reflecting how the colleges have adapted their community support to coronavirus. Our full list of sources is as follows:
The Princeton Review, Most Engaged in Community Service: https://www.princetonreview.com/college-rankings?rankings=most-engaged-in-community-service
Engagement Scholarship Consortium, University-Based Engagement Offices: https://engagementscholarship.org/esc-membership/member-institutions/university-based-engagement-offices
Times Higher Education, Top universities in the world for global impact: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/student/best-universities/top-universities-world-global-impact
Carnegie Foundation, Carnegie Community Engagement Classification: https://www.aplu.org/news-and-media/blog/2020-carnegie-community-engagement-classification-recipients-announced
After sourcing the most frequently cited colleges from the above lists, we researched their community engagement programs to see how effective they have been and how they are adapting to coronavirus (as well as researching new coronavirus community outreach programs.)
The colleges below have been sorted with the following criteria: Most wide-ranging community outreach programs, aggregated ranking on the methodology lists, evidence of effective response to coronavirus, and innovation in outreach programs.
Our final rankings, from 30 to one are below:
30. Ball State University
Perhaps the most impressive community engagement project to come out of Ball State University is the Building Better Neighborhoods Initiative. This initiative connects the college’s resources with a range of organizations to develop the college’s hometown of Muncie, Indiana, and throughout Delaware County. In 2018, Building Better Neighborhoods won the Key Award for Service Program of the Year from the Prosperity Indiana Summit. The college has used one of its resources to fight coronavirus in an interesting way. It is using its planetarium’s computers to help researchers understand coronavirus. Engagement Scholarship Consortium highlights Ball State University’s engagement office as a great community resource. Carnegie Foundation names the college as a community engagement campus.
29. Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Inside Higher Ed notes that Wake Forest University created a task force to “identify areas of institutional strength and weakness across civic ethos, literacy, inquiry, and action” after a 2012 report from the Department of Education urged colleges to increase civic learning and democratic engagement. This task force has since become The Office for Civic and Community Engagement. It now runs programs focused on educational equity in its local county; health and nutrition; and economic empowerment. It currently lists 34 separate programs under these focuses. In one year, these programs were able to raise over $470,000 for the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund. The Office for Civic and Community Engagement has responded to coronavirus in several ways. It is running a range of virtual events, such as schoolchild mentorships and virtual storytimes for children. Due to Wake Forest University’s ever-increasing community outreach, The Carnegie Foundation has classified the college as being a Community Engagement Campus.
28. Florida International University
In 2019 alone, Florida International University was able to place 200 high school students in summer internships, get 1,000 attendees at its community-building events, and much more. In 2020, the college’s Office of Engagement has adapted its services to meet the needs of coronavirus. For instance, it is connecting people who have lost jobs with employment opportunities and providing free resources to make people more employable. Times Higher Education names Florida International University as ranking between 101st to 200th on a global list of the colleges that are making the most impact on the world. In 2020, Carnegie Foundation classified the college as a community engagement campus.
27. California State University, San Marcos
San Marcos, California
Of the numerous community outreach programs at California State University, the Tribal Initiative is possibly the most impressive. The Tribal Initiative works in a variety of ways to boost college participation and career achievement among Native American communities. Since 2007, the program has partnered with 25 tribes and has “exponentially increased recruitment and retention of students from this traditionally underserved student population.” California State University, San Marcos is home to the Shiley Institute for Palliative Care. Since the coronavirus crisis emerged, the institute has offered healthcare workers free access to over 20 online palliative care courses. Engagement College Consortium highlights California State University, San Marcos as having a great engagement office. Carnegie Foundation lists the college as an engagement campus.
26. East Carolina University
Greenville, North Carolina
In 2019, East Carolina University’s community outreach efforts received a boost. It launched the Economic Growth Collaboratory. The Collaboratory focuses on pairing the college’s data scientists with North Carolina’s agricultural leaders to increase the state’s economy. However, the Collaboratory is just one aspect of the college’s wide-ranging community outreach efforts, which contribute to $2 billion per year for the North Carolina economy. Currently, East Carolina University is working to improve coronavirus treatments, such as through conducting antibody plasma donations and collaborating with other public health experts. Carnegie Foundation classifies East Carolina University as a community engagement campus. Engagement Scholarship Consortium lists the college as having a strong engagement office.
25. Kansas State University
Kansas State University considers engagement to be a core value and a key part of its identity. Many of the college’s students are involved in service-learning as a result of this engagement. The most recent report of community outreach efforts on campus revealed that over 9,000 enrolled students had participated in service-learning classes and that there had been 143 recent engaged work projects with a statewide reach. These efforts had benefited over 900,000 Kansans. Additionally, Kansas State University has committed itself to the fight against coronavirus through “research projects, outreach efforts, and faculty experts.” These efforts include developing roadmaps for future research; creating face shields, cloth masks, and other PPE; and assisting small businesses. Engagement Scholarship Consortium praises the college’s engagement office. Carnegie Foundation names the college a community engagement campus.
24. University of South Florida
In 2020, Carnegie Foundation classified the University of South Florida as a community engagement campus. This classification came after years of successful outreach stories. For instance, every semester, around 500 engineering students participate in a course that engages directly with community partners, such as the Tampa Bay Housing Authority. Since coronavirus reached the USA, many community members of the University of South Florida have been going above and beyond to help those in need. One example is Joshua Mizels, a medical student who, with faculty advisors, has established a telehealth clinic that monitors coronavirus patients during self-isolation. Times Higher Education also ranks the University of South Florida between 101st to 200th on a global scale of colleges making the most impact.
23. University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
Buffalo, New York
Times Higher Education names University at Buffalo as being 101st to 200th on its list of colleges across the world that are making the most impact. The source gives the college a score of 82.9 out of 100 for its work on sustainable cities and communities. The college’s Office of Government and Community Relations currently runs 10 programs that help its local community in differing ways. For instance, Adopt a Family works to make holidays brighter for dozens of poor families by providing gifts, and Community Day gets students to work on neighborhood improvement projects. University at Buffalo’s community support efforts have adapted well to coronavirus. Currently, over 500 of the college’s faculty medical professionals are providing care to patients. The college has also developed an app that aims to help with coronavirus contact tracing. Carnegie Foundation also lists the college as a community outreach campus.
22. James Madison University
The Community Service-Learning department at James Madison University has existed since 1986 when two of the college’s faculty members sought to integrate community outreach into their courses. Over the next 34 years, community outreach via service-learning has spread all across the college’s campus. Today, the Community Service-Learning department maintains over 100 relationships with community partners in the local region and across the world. Thanks to James Madison University’s commitment to community support, the campus has been quick to help others during the coronavirus crisis. It is currently consulting to help with coronavirus testing in Virginia, creating hundreds of masks, housing homeless people, and more. Engagement Scholarship Consortium praises the partnerships that the college’s engagement office has built. Carnegie Foundation names it a community outreach campus.
21. University of Massachusetts
Times Higher Education ranks the five campuses of the University of Massachusetts as one institution on its list of global impact colleges, ranking them collectively as between 101st to 200th. Carnegie Foundation lists the five campuses separately all as community engagement colleges. In addition to working with all the colleges in the University of Massachusetts system, UMASS Amherst also forms part of the Five College Consortium with Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and Hampshire College to extend its activities. This consortium’s work is extensive, it currently works with organizations like Amherst Survival Center, Cancer Connection and Bright Spot Therapy Dogs to support its community. And that is just scratching the surface of the University of Massachusetts’s community outreach activities. Perhaps the most effective coronavirus response work of the University of Massachusetts system is taking place at Umass Medical School, which has dedicated more than 19 labs for coronavirus research.
20. Auburn University
For over 100 years, Auburn University has had a mission to partner “with communities, businesses, schools and government to help people meet their educational goals and to improve quality of life.” This mission has been successful all over the world, from healthcare programs in Africa to meals for the local community in Alabama. In fact, $26 million is awarded to college outreach and extension initiatives every year. Since the coronavirus crisis, Auburn University has been donating medical supplies to hospitals, organizing food bank volunteers and making thousands of masks. Engagement Scholarship Consortium praises the college’s engagement office, and Carnegie Foundation lists the college as a community engagement campus.
19. University of Maryland, Baltimore County
The Office of Community Engagement at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County has formed strong ties with other college departments to ensure that students, faculty, and staff provide over 2 million hours of community service in Maryland every year. For instance, the office works with the Staff Senate Community Outreach Committee to conduct drives for school supplies and food baskets. The Office of Community Engagement has also made many important partnerships with external organizations. This is continuing throughout the coronavirus crisis. For instance, the office has partnered with the Baltimore Arabber Preservation Society to deliver thousands of pounds of food to communities. Times Higher Education ranks the University of Maryland, Baltimore County as being 101st to 200th on its list of global universities that are making an impact. Carnegie Foundation classifies the college as being a community engagement campus.
18. Warren Wilson College
Ashville, North Carolina
The Center for Community Engagement at Warren Wilson College aims to ensure that its students are “prepared to be a catalyst for change in local and global communities.” It is a graduation requirement for every student to participate in some form of community engagement. The college’s primary areas of engagement are divided into five categories: the environment, food security, housing/homelessness, race/immigration, and youth/education. Overall, students alone perform more than 50,000 community engagement work hours every single year. However, thus far, the college has not given many updates into its coronavirus community service. The Princeton Review names Warren Wilson College the sixth-best college for community engagement. Carnegie Foundation classifies it as a community engagement campus.
17. Marquette University
In 2016, Marquette University’s community outreach efforts were boosted with the opening of the Office of Community Engagement. This office helps a range of groups and individuals at the college engage with the Milwaukee community. It does this through a newsletter, volunteer listings, running programs, giving personal advice and much more. The college also runs a range of community service events. The largest and longest running community outreach event at the college is Hunger Clean-up. This event helps a range of non-profit workplaces, such as food banks. It has been running since 1989 and over 34,000 students have participated. Additionally, the college is combating coronavirus in several ways. It is collaborating with small businesses, helping public school children access education from home, producing PPE and much more. The Princeton Review names Marquette University the 15th best college for community engagement. Carnegie Foundation classifies the college as a community engagement campus.
16. Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island
The Swearer Center for Public Service has been on the Brown University campus since 1986. The center’s location, in the Dean of the College’s office, allowed it to make an impact on the entire college curriculum. By 2020, the Swearer Center has grown to service 1,200 students per year and formed connections with over 100 community partners. Some of Brown University’s more recent community activities include increasing voter participation, running community school programming, and organizing state problem-solving sessions with community leaders and residents. Since the pandemic affected college activities, The Swearer Center had moved its student taught English for speakers of other languages programs online. It is also working closely with its community partners to “discuss the Swearer Center and Brown’s response to COVID-19 and ways that partner organizations can collaborate and share resources during the pandemic.” In 2020, Carnegie Foundation classified Brown University as a community engagement campus. Inside Higher Ed is impressed with the college’s focus on providing internships that have a civic engagement focus.
15. Tufts University
Inside Higher Ed notes that Tufts University has an innovative approach to community outreach. In the 2000s, the leadership team created the College of Citizenship and Public Service, later renamed the College of Civic Life. While this department is considered a college within the university, it exists to boost the other colleges’ community engagement efforts. However, before this specific community engagement college, civic responsibility had been a part of the Tufts University model since the 1940s. Some of the college’s community activities include increasing voter registration, a language and literacy early education program, and much more. Since the coronavirus pandemic emerged, Tufts University has been organizing ‘virtual groups to train and deploy volunteers via our Tufts Civic Impact platform.” The college is also a Carnegie Foundation classified community engagement campus.
14. Stonehill College
An intrinsic part of the Stonehill College experience is acting to make a more just and compassionate world. Because of this, students at the college give almost 100,000 hours of service to community projects. Projects range from assisting at nursing homes to building houses in Nicaragua. First-year students engage with community outreach before the start of the academic year. Every August, the college organizes Community Engagement Day for freshmen to find out all the community outreach opportunities available to them. Currently, the college is both making face shields and donating equipment to fight coronavirus. The Princeton Review ranks Stonehill College as being the 17th best college for community engagement. Carnegie Foundation classifies it as a community outreach campus.
13. Berry College
Mount Berry, Georgia
Early in the academic year, Berry College students participate in the Make a Difference Day, which occurs on the third Saturday in October. Hundreds of students come together on this day to work with a range of charitable organizations. In the spring semester, the college encourages further community engagement with the MLK Day of Service. This event occurs on Martin Luther King, Jr, Day and gets students to participate in community engagement. In addition to these events, community engagement opportunities are always occurring at the college, thanks to its dozens of community partnerships. During coronavirus, the college’s students faculty and staff have been hosting food drives, blood drives, creating face masks and writing notes of encouragement to healthcare workers. The Princeton Review considers Berry College to be the 14th best college for community engagement. Carnegie Foundation names it a community engagement campus.
12. Duke University
Durham, North Carolina
Between 2007 to 2016, Duke University provided financial support to over 2,800 of its students for the purpose of carrying out service projects across the world, Inside Higher Ed notes. However, this program, DukeEngage, has only become more proactive in recent years. The college notes that by summer 2019, over 4,800 students had put in over 1.6 million hours of work with more than 600 community organizations. Some of DukeEngage’s achievements in 2019 alone included providing farm-grown meals for Rwandan hospital patients, teaching STEM classes in California, and planting trees in Costa Rica. Duke University’s outreach led to it being named a community engagement campus by The Carnegie Foundation in 2015. Since coronavirus impacted the USA, the college has supported its community in a number of ways. It has offered free legal assistance to small businesses and nonprofits; created an Inter-Faith Food Shuttle to provide healthy food to children, seniors and families; is running a farm to increase food supplies for the food shuttle; has adapted its crisis response center to help and shelter people while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines; and much more.
11. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
When it comes to serving communities and cities, Times Higher Education gives The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill a score of 91.6 out of 100. Overall, the source considers the college to be the 22nd best in the world for global impact. The community outreach activities at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill are extensive. Students always have the opportunity to help communities, from volunteering and living with immigrant communities to enriching the education of K-16 students. In 2019, the college’s Carolina Center for Public Service celebrated its 20th anniversary. It reflected on some of its key achievements, such as hurricane relief efforts and the creation of public service awards. In March 2020, this center informed its community partners that it would supply whatever resources it could during the coronavirus pandemic. Carnegie Foundation also lists the college as a community engagement campus.
10. Pitzer College
The Community Engagement Center at Pitzer College has been an important part of the campus for over 20 years. This center has been responsible for an increased level of civic responsibility at the college. And this engagement has increased every year. For instance, the college has reported that from 2009 to 2010, 65% of faculty members taught academic service-learning. Additionally, around 40% of students participated in community engagement. Overall, this translated into over 100,000 hours dedicated to community outreach. However, by 2020, 100% of students were participating in either service learning or community engagement before they graduated. During coronavirus, Pitzer College is producing masks for its community partners, raising funds to provide food and security for people out of work, accepting donations of art supplies and books for a women’s center, and more. The Princeton Review names the college the 18th best at community outreach. Carnegie Foundation classifies it as a community engagement campus.
9. Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
Back in 2012, Cornell University launched Engaged Cornell, a $150 million community outreach initiative, states Inside Higher Ed. Engaged Cornell is still running in the present day. It offers students, faculty, and staff members many different engaging learning opportunities by providing grants, finding programs, providing courses, and more. Some of Engaged Cornell’s work has led to prisoners being given a second chance, peace in conflict zones, and humanized cancer treatment. Engaged Cornell has been quick to adapt to community needs since coronavirus affected the world. For instance, faculty members are collaborating with community leaders to ensure that people have access to food and that food producers stay in operation throughout the crisis. Engaged Cornell has also developed a website that tracks and offers insight into the rate of coronavirus infections in New York State. However, areas of Cornell University that are not officially part of Engaged Cornell are also helping with coronavirus community support. For example, a Cornell administrator has been working to provide masks for every incarcerated person in New York State. If that weren’t good enough, then the college has also provided $100,000 to help small businesses in its home town of Ithaca. Lastly, Cornell University is also classified as a community engagement campus by Carnegie Foundation.
8. College of William & Mary
The Community Engagement department of College of William and Mary has encouraged its students, faculty, and staff to engage in coronavirus relief in a number of ways, such as volunteering at food pantries or by creating art for medical staff and patients. Every year, the college’s students dedicate over 245,000 hours to community support activities. It currently has more than 100 partnerships with non-profits and community organizations. The Princeton Review considers College of William & Mary to be the seventh-best college for community engagement. Carnegie Foundation lists it as a community engagement campus.
7. Arizona State University
Times Higher Education names Arizona State University as the fifth-best college in the world for global impact. It also scores the college an 88.5 out of 100 for poverty elimination efforts. The college was able to gain these rankings through its incredible programs, such as Bridging Success Early Start and Indigenous Imagination Initiative, which help at-risk and underserved communities access career opportunities. In late March 2020, Arizona State University received a $2 million donation so that it could coordinate responses to the pandemic. It is using this money to test critical workers, assemble test kits, and manufacture PPE. Carnegie Foundation also lists Arizona State University as a community outreach campus.
6. Saint Louis University
Saint Louis, Missouri
In 2018 alone, Saint Louis University’s students, faculty, and staff managed to dedicate 1.7 million hours to community service efforts. Almost 90 of the college’s courses incorporate service-learning into its studies. In addition to this, the college provides $6 million of free legal services every year, delivers over 2,500 meals to needing families and does so much more, The college places such a large emphasis on community engagement due to its Jesuit identity and mission to improve everyone in the world’s quality of life. During the coronavirus pandemic, Saint Louis University has managed to get its community to volunteer for a range of charitable organizations, such as The Salvation Army and KidSmart. The Princeton Review names Saint Louis University as the college that is the second most engaged in community service. Carnegie Foundation has classified the college as being a community engagement campus.
5. Tulane University
New Orleans, Louisiana
According to The Princeton Review, no college in the USA is more engaged in community service than Tulane University. Carnegie Foundation also names it a community engagement campus. The college has been a leader in community engagement since 2006 when it became “the first major research university in the country to integrate public service into its core curriculum.” Thanks to this, the college has helped New Orleans, the US, and the entire world. For instance, the college’s architecture courses have projects where students get involved with construction in local neighborhoods. Other students go to school classrooms to give children extra educational experiences. Outside of the college curriculum, Tulane University is a hotbed of civic engagement. For example, each semester, around 1,000 students participate in Outreach Tulane, a one-day event that brings students to non-profit and governmental work sites around New Orleans. In the age of coronavirus, Tulane University is “leading the fight against the COVID-19 global pandemic through research, innovation, scholarship and frontline health care.”
4. Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado
As demand for food banks is surging due to coronavirus, Colorado State University is aiming to provide as much food as possible by getting people to create victory gardens. This idea has been adapted from World War One and Two, when communities grew increased amounts of vegetables due to diminished food imports. Already, over 1,400 people are participating in growing and donating efforts. Prior to coronavirus, Colorado State University was already a leading college for community outreach. The Office of Community and Economic Development has won awards from the Association of Land-Grant Universities and the University Economic Development Association for its important work. Engagement Scholarship Consortium also highlights the college’s community engagement office, and Carnegie Foundation lists the college as an engagement campus. Lastly, Times Higher Education ranks Colorado State University between 301st to 400th on a global scale of colleges making the most impact.
3. Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
Three sources name Pennsylvania State University as being an incredible community outreach college. Times Higher Education ranks it at 35th on a scale of global impact, noting that it is especially excelling in making cities and communities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. Engagement Scholarship Consortium notes the college is a member of its organization with an outstanding engagement office. Carnegie Foundation also classifies it as an engagement campus. Pennsylvania State University’s first formal outreach program dates back to 1877 when it taught farmers about better crop and livestock practices. Today, the college runs over 90 conferences and programs every year; manages the Justice and Safety Institute; leads the Nittany AI Alliance; and organizes many other initiatives. Since the onset of coronavirus, Pennsylvania State University’s health system has adapted its services to help as many patients as possible. It postponed all non-essential surgeries and consolidated outpatient practices, as well as prohibited visitors and offered free coronavirus screenings. Faculty and students of the college have also established the Families in Need COVID Relief fund to help secure food for struggling families.
2. University of Georgia
The faculty, staff and students of University of Georgia have really stepped up to assist the community during the coronavirus crisis. For example, the School of Social Work is helping East Athens’s struggling communities access food; the free clinic is providing testing; the Business Development Center is assisting small businesses; and a range of departments are creating face shields. Since 2005, the college’s Office of Service-Learning has enhanced students’ education through “quality academic service-learning experiences.” Times Higher Education considers University of Georgia as being between the 101st to 200th best college for global impact. Carnegie Foundation names it as a community engagement campus. Lastly, Engagement Scholarship Consortium lists it as a college with a notable engagement office.
1. The Ohio State University
While The Ohio State University ranks between 101st to 200th on Times Higher Education’s global university impact rankings, it manages to score 98.4 out of 100 for promoting and building inclusive and sustainable industrialization. Additionally, the Carnegie Foundation classifies the college as a community impact campus, and Engagement Scholarship Consortium highlights the college’s engagement office as being strong. The Ohio State University’s Outreach and Engagement department runs dozens of programs with both on and off-campus organizations. For instance, in the area of community/economic development alone, the department is currently collaborating with 20 different organizations, ranging from The Haiti Empowerment Project to the Ohio Manufacturing Institute. Similarly, the college’s coronavirus response has been extensive, ranging from projects that provide predictive modeling to help guide the State of Ohio, to providing food and support to communities. It is also running initiatives to match health departments with professional volunteers.
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