07/02/2014 04:23 pm ET Updated Sep 01, 2014

Community Engagement and Higher Education

All of us in higher education are under considerable pressure to justify the relevance and reduce the costs of our colleges and universities. While we often find ourselves on the defensive, our increasing programs and activities in community engagement strengthen our case for the significance and the value of higher education. We recognized long ago that knowledge for its own sake could no longer validate the cost of higher education. Colleges and universities needed to demonstrate that they could connect theory and practice by adapting and applying teaching and learning to transform our communities and ourselves.

For the past 25 years, the California Campus Compact (CACC) has inspired students, faculty, and administrators throughout our state to co-create teaching and learning environments that support, advance, and reward community engagement. CACC has been effective in developing an educational model that seamlessly integrates community engagement into curricular and co-curricular programs and activities. In doing so, CACC has helped us bridge the unnecessary divide between academic and student affairs to the benefit of students, faculty, and student affairs professionals. It has led to a renewal on our campuses of common purpose, civic virtue, and social responsibility that has made higher education more relevant and worth its cost. While we need to reduce the costs of our colleges and universities for the short and long term sustainability of higher education, we can argue that community centered higher education is worth the expense as anything less would seriously diminish the health and progress of our nation and civilization.

At the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), we became involved with CACC as we were developing an initiative that we have named The Center for Beloved Community in honor of the spirit and advocacy of Martin Luther King. The initiative commits us to advance a Beloved Community not only in CIIS, but also in the San Francisco Bay Area. CIIS is blessed to be located in a radically changing area of San Francisco. The dynamics of the rapid expansion present us with opportunities and challenges. As high tech and the arts flourish all around us, the underserved need more support and attention lest they be driven out of San Francisco. If we are to be active members of a Beloved Community, we need to provide the space where we can convene the difficult and heartfelt conversations that can lead to the quality of social change that will benefit us all.

I believe that CIIS serves as an example of what other colleges and universities can do if not already doing. The CIIS School of Professional Psychology and Health along with its six counseling centers educate more counseling psychologists than any other university. We are grateful that year after year, our graduates in counseling psychology consistently place among the highest in pass rates on the California credentialing examination. Yet, we would not be satisfied with this distinctive performance were it not for the strong commitment of our graduates to transform themselves and our many and diverse communities now and for generations to come.

The School of Consciousness and Transformation, as its name indicates, is devoted to providing an education that will enable students to explore the myriad of worldviews that can be used in changing themselves and their communities for the better. This School serves those who wish to work in, if not create, progressive for-profit and non-profit organizations in the Bay Area and beyond. Students in this School explore transformative leadership; creativity, consciousness, and the arts; ecology, religion, and spirituality; scholarly activism; philosophy, cosmology, and consciousness; engaged world psychologies; gender and cultural diversity; and global peace.

The School of Undergraduate Studies serves a growing number of students who have had difficulty in finding the time and place to complete their undergraduate degrees. By offering these students a cohort model of education that honors past education and achievement, the Bachelor of Arts Completion Program (BAC) serves a diverse student body and prepares them through integrative, multidisciplinary, and collaborative learning approaches. Many graduates of BAC will enter various graduate programs at CIIS and elsewhere to advance their opportunities to serve their communities.

To advance our institutional vision of a Beloved Community, CIIS draws on the inspiration, support, and credibility of CACC. And that is why as President of CIIS, I am a grateful member of CACC - an organization that we can partner with in advancing our public purpose, improving community life, and educating for social responsibility.