Two Philadelphia schools - the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University - are among the top colleges in the country at improving the economic, cultural, and social lives of their urban communities, according to a national study released yesterday.
"Saviors of Our Cities" ranked Penn first, along with the University of Southern California. Drexel finished 10th and Rutgers University's Newark campus 23d.
Temple University and Widener University in Chester were among 75 additional schools that made the "honor roll" in the report by Evan S. Dobelle, who has served as president of six institutions of higher education, including Trinity College in Connecticut and, now, Westfield State College in Massachusetts.
The report was released in Philadelphia at the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities conference, held at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel. The coalition is a nonprofit organization of universities that focuses on issues faced by colleges in urban areas.
"You can't teach the liberal arts and across the street is an impoverished neighborhood. You can't just rezone out of reality," Dobelle said during an interview. "And I think colleges and universities are beginning to understand there are enormous benefits in this, particularly in partnerships."
More universities in recent years have begun working closely with their communities, he said.
Widener president James T. Harris III said his school had been planning to erect an eight-foot fence around campus when he arrived in 2002 because of safety concerns about Chester City. There also was talk of getting a different post office box to disassociate the school, and during freshman orientation, students were warned not to go into the city.
Harris rejected those ideas and instead fostered more interaction with Chester, sending more than 1,000 students there for community-service projects.
"Our students are thriving and they're learning," he said. "When they graduate, they're better prepared for the real world because they've had that experience."
Temple also recently removed fencing from around its property to welcome its North Philadelphia community and is planning a new library and other facilities on Broad Street.
Asked why Temple had not made the top 25 along with Drexel and Penn, Dobelle said it might be because the school was a public institution and did not have as much funding to put into community endeavors, or because it had not been working with the community as long as the other schools.
"There is a degree of subjectivity in this," acknowledged Dobelle, who noted that he has visited more than 300 schools and has been researching in this area for more than 20 years.
Temple president Ann Weaver Hart said she would look into Temple's placement.
"Many times, we just don't do a very good job of communicating all the good things we do," she said.
For Dobelle's study, schools were assessed in several areas, including money invested, faculty and student involvement in community service, access to students from diverse economic backgrounds, application increases, and alumni giving.
They also were assessed on how well they established a "collaborative vision" with their community. Those at the top have "long-standing cooperative efforts" on a large scale, Dobelle said.
He and a colleague did on-site and telephone interviews and reviewed data. The study cost less than $10,000 and was funded by Westfield State's nonprofit foundation. (Westfield was not on the list.)
Penn was the only Ivy League school in the top 25, and was recognized largely for its work through the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships. The center works with local public schools, a collaboration that has begun to be replicated nationally.
Its service-learning curriculum and neighborhood expansion also were cited.
Some upper-echelon schools try to "transcend" their community rather than embrace it, Dobelle said.
Penn "made a decision not to transcend, but to make a difference in West Philadelphia."
Ira Harkavy, founding director and associate vice president of Penn's community center, was thrilled with the ranking for the university's more than 25-year commitment to the community.
"I couldn't agree more with the premise of Mr. Dobelle's study," he said. "Higher education is absolutely key to improving substantially the quality of life in our city for all populations."
Drexel was selected for its work in rejuvenating a four-mile corridor on Lancaster Avenue and its partnership with Penn to revitalize University City. It also extended its presence in the city with the acquisition and expansion of the Center City campus of Hahnemann Medical School (now Drexel Medical School).
Its entrepreneurship and technology-commercialization offices - which help start-up and existing companies, faculty, and inventors - also helped Drexel attain recognition.
Dobelle described Drexel under its late president, Constantine Papadakis, as one of the nation's "boldest" schools.
Also in Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh was tied for second and Carnegie Mellon University placed 19th.