One of the clearest signs that an idea is valued on campus is that it has its own office. Just a few years ago, campuses with designated offices for community service were the exception. Today, they are the rule, with the vast majority of Campus Compact member institutions reporting that they have a centralized office for community service-learning on campus. Some of these centers focus on providing support to student service projects. Others provide support to faculty service-learning efforts. Still others focus on their relationship with the community.

The Office for the Community Agenda based at the Maricopa Community Colleges District puts a whole new twist on these models. Part community collaborator, part education reformer, part campus innovator the Office for the Community Agenda offers a distinctive example of campus support for community engagement.

The Office for the Community Agenda was founded in the spring of 1996 to directly advise Maricopa Chancellor Paul Elsner. Central to its founding mission was the support and initiation of community collaborations at the various community colleges overseen by Maricopa. Unlike most centers, however, the Office for the Community Agenda doesn't focus on maintaining programs. Instead, it works to generate new ideas and develop new collaborations which, once off the ground, can be sustained by other offices in the Maricopa District.

The office is regularly initiating studies and discussions with community groups to explore potential partnerships for the Maricopa campuses. In one case, through discussions with the mayor and city council of Phoenix and the Arizona Film Institute, the office initiated the construction of a multimedia/video production center. In another case, a study center was formed through a consortium of the Maricopa Community Colleges, the city of Phoenix, and the city s Fire Fighters Association to examine ways that Phoenix neighborhoods can be made or remain livable and viable. Another effort generated by the office focuses on ways to address the needs of Native American tribes in the Phoenix area.

A second aspect of the office's work is as education reformer. The office treats community engagement as an integral part of larger changes in education. Much of its initial work has focused on providing better educational service to urban and minority populations of youth and adults. This includes change both on and off campus. Off campus, the college has begun work with the community on projects such as an NFL Youth Education Training Center and the development of a proposed Urban Survival Program, both to be made available for all elementary and middle schools in Maricopa County. On campus, its work includes the creation of learning centers, and exploration of ideas like a College Without Cost, which uses volunteers and existing structures to deliver higher education at little or no cost.

The third role of the Office for the Community Agenda is as campus innovator. All of the work and ideas generated by the office are framed by its resolve to take a proactive and forward-thinking approach to education and community engagement. The Office for the Community Agenda bills itself, above all, as a medium for innovation to prepare to face and incorporate the paradigm shifts of the 21st century, planning change rather than accepting it, experimenting rather than waiting. Within this office, change on campus and in the community come together around an innovative attitude towards education.  

From Service Matters 1998: Engaging Higher Education In the Renewal of America s Communities and American Democracy