The University of North Carolina at Charlotte Civic Action Plan

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Civic Action Plan has been developed in response to Campus Compact’s challenge for higher education institutions to deepen their commitment to public purpose. Observing the 30th anniversary of its founding, Campus Compact called on more than 450 university chancellors and presidents to publicly sign an “Action Statement” in March 2016.

The Action Statement committed each institution to develop a defined strategy to advance civic engagement, known as the Civic Action Plan. In December 2016, UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip L. Dubois signed the action statement and confirmed the University’s participation. Four University employees, with community-focused roles and responsibilities, led a working group of 25 faculty and staff to develop UNC Charlotte’s Civic Action Plan.

At the same time, the social climate of the Charlotte region was of timely and critical influence. In 2013, a Harvard/University of California Berkeley study ranked Charlotte 50th out of 50 major cities in economic mobility. A child born in Charlotte’s lowest income quintile had virtually no likelihood of ascending to higher income quintiles due to lack of opportunity. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force was created to bridge the community’s opportunity gap, calling on community organizations to rally around this collective effort with initiatives designed to address economic mobility.

The Civic Action Plan working group answered Campus Compact’s call to action, furthering the commitment of UNC Charlotte and the UNC System’s community engagement efforts and incorporating the recommendations of the Opportunity Task Force. The team developed the following mission as a guide:

The Civic Action Plan is a sustainable and long-term approach to fully activate the University’s mission to address the unique needs of the Charlotte region.

The plan provides a strategy to improve social outcomes by organizing University resources, community-based research efforts, and community collaborations to effectively address regional need through collective impact.

To lead the plan’s development, the Civic Action Plan working group conducted a contextual analysis to assess community engagement at UNC Charlotte. Results show that while there is a strong foundation for civic engagement, current resources to build upon the foundation are inadequate. Furthermore, lacking centralized infrastructure, work is done in silos, community members experience frustration, faculty report priority confusion, and there is minimal alignment between student and staff volunteerism and community-based research projects.

The University plays a unique role in the Charlotte community, as a leader in higher education, as the region’s only research university, and as a major employer. By effecting a Civic Action Plan that has as its core measuring collective impact, UNC Charlotte will assume a role as a civic leader. While fulfilling its mission to educate its students (many of whom will continue to live and work in Charlotte) and to push the boundaries of knowledge through research, the University also serves as a neutral partner able to convene community discussions, shape a community-based research agenda, and evaluate programs designed to improve opportunity. The Civic Action Plan recognizes that the University does not exist in isolation from the community it serves and that a shared agenda with shared measurements can undergird mutually reinforcing action that strengthens the University’s ability to carry out its mission and build a stronger community.

Informed by the contextual analysis, UNC Charlotte’s Civic Action Plan has three goals and proposes two recommendations that leverage existing strengths and opportunities while addressing current weaknesses and potential threats.

Goals

  1. Enhance quality of life in the Charlotte region through mutually beneficial partnerships.
  2. Build a culture of civic responsibility through experiential learning, community-based research, and volunteerism.
  3. Establish metrics and an assessment process that evaluate the collective impact of community engagement.

Recommendations

  1. Establish a centralized structure, with dedicated staff, to coordinate and support the University’s community engagement efforts and assess collective impact.
  2. Build “Community Engagement Zones” designed as multi-year interdisciplinary University-wide initiatives with common themes and shared agendas responsive to community
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