by Dr. Lessie Branch and Dr. Edward Summers
May 15, 2019, as it appeared on Weekday Magazine

The Bronx is experiencing unprecedented growth and development. Since 2009, The Bronx has seen $18.9 billion invested in local development, and its population surge by 13.1%. Moreover, unemployment in the Bronx has declined to 5.4% – a drop of nearly 10 percentage points over the past decade.

Much like other parts of New York City, the Bronx has a very diverse economy with anchors of healthcare and educational institutions, a thriving food service and hospitality industry, and financial services. By all indicators, the Bronx is on the path to becoming the new “hot spot” for investors, students, businesses, and new and existing residents.

While the Bronx economy is gaining momentum and catching up with the rest of New York City, it is time to examine the role that the higher education sector plays in the community.

Metropolitan College of New York Bronx Campus at 463 East 149th Street

Metropolitan College of New York Bronx Campus at 463 East 149th Street

Home to more than 15 higher education institutions enrolling nearly 60,000 students, with more than 12,000 faculty and staff, the Bronx outpaces the number of colleges and universities located in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens respectively. Importantly, those who attend and work at these institutions spend their financial resources in the borough – spurring a major economic boon to the community.

As experts of higher education, we believe that a local university alliance with industry, government, and community-based organizations could help position the Bronx as not only a place of reinvention but a hub for academic rigor and intellect. The time has come to recognize the Bronx as a borough that is rich in academics and economic promise.

What does a university consortium look like in practice? Take, for example, the Colleges of the Fenway, which is a collaborative effort of five neighboring Boston-based colleges in the Fenway area serving 12,000 students. This collaboration was created to add value to student academic and social life while seeking innovative methods of investing in new services and containing the costs of higher education.

An example of collaboration at scale can be witnessed in Baltimore. Baltimore Collegetown Network consists of 14 colleges, 160,000 students, and over 60,000 faculty and staff members. Notably, Baltimore Collegetown Network pumps $17.2 billion into the local economy and is known for having a quirky culture and cool companies.

Closer to home, the Brooklyn Education Innovation Network (BE.IN) and Campus Philly. BE.IN is a consortium of 10 colleges, universities, and a law school that focuses on developing a talent pipeline for Brooklyn’s emerging economy. In 2017, BE.IN placed more than 2,300 students and alumni in jobs and/or internships over a two year period. A few miles south, Campus Philly is a nonprofit organization that fuels economic growth by encouraging college students to study, explore, live and work in the Greater Philadelphia tri-state region. 54% of Philadelphia’s college graduates remain in Philly. It remains a hotbed for retaining talent.

All of these examples show that colleges and universities are eager to partner with other institutions, industry, government, community-based organizations and that higher education alliances can collectively build a brand and identity that anything is possible when you work together to develop and grow talent locally.

So, what can happen in the Bronx? We would encourage Bronx employers, educators both K-12 and higher education to join the efforts of the Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, and Here to Here in growing The Bronx Private Industry Council (Bronx PIC). Together, these stakeholders will explore how K-12 sector and higher education institutions in the Bronx can work together, partnering with industry to better understand their talent needs and challenges, and of course, supporting the educational needs of Bronx residents. Here to Here is already doing this amazing work of connecting students to opportunities and we can expand the work through the Bronx PIC with higher education and additional businesses joining the efforts. The Bronx could emerge as a College Town that rivals any other education hub across the nation.

The higher education sector clearly plays a vital role in the economic, communal, and educational vitality of the Bronx. So how do we think about strengthening the relationship among our institutions and community? Continue to bet on the spirit and ingenuity of the Bronx. We can build Bronx College Town or Campus Bronx. The Bronx Private Industry Council (Bronx PIC) can be the connective tissue between academia, industry, and community. We are the Bronx! Let’s make this happen! Let’s bet on and build the Bronx PIC!

Dr. Lessie Branch is the Associate Dean and Associate Professor in the School for Business at Metropolitan College of New York. She is also a member of the Scholars Strategy Network and a Fulbright Specialist in Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Politics.

Dr. Edward Summers is a higher education executive and a prominent voice on issues impacting higher education and urban issues. He is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration at Long Island University Brooklyn and the incoming Executive Director of The Bronx Private Industry Council.