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Thread: Do states with dispersed university systems have healthier communities than states who dont?

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    Cyburbian Hawkeye66's avatar
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    Do states with dispersed university systems have healthier communities than states who dont?

    I got thinking about our Iowa neighbors in Wisconsin and how their mid sized cities are healthier than ours and one of the main differences is that most of those towns in Wisconsin have a UW Branch Campus. In Iowa the universities are concentrated to three (Very well off I may add) communities. Do you think it makes a big difference?

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    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    I guess it depends on what you mean by healthy communities. Iowa has several private universities located throughout the state in midsized communities. Do public universities have a greater impact on the health of a community than private ones? Michigan has several state universities throughout the state and the health of those communities vary greatly.

    I am not sure if I am adding to your question. New York has several public universities throughout the state. My guess the university is just one of many components that lead to a healthy community.
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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hawkeye66 View post
    I got thinking about our Iowa neighbors in Wisconsin and how their mid sized cities are healthier than ours and one of the main differences is that most of those towns in Wisconsin have a UW Branch Campus. In Iowa the universities are concentrated to three (Very well off I may add) communities. Do you think it makes a big difference?
    Its an interesting question. You can look at the UC system, and there are several "new" campuses - change over time. The combination of education and income is what you are looking for, and if you can tease out the University component, you are good.
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    The impacts of universities and colleges are mixed (sorry Mr. Florida). You can point to Michigan and Ann Arbor, Stanford and Palo Alto, etc. But there is also Fresno State and Fresno, and even Yale and New Haven. As in most things, it all depends.

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I think there may be something to your logic. The universities offer a stable employment base and higher-wage technical positions that would not be typical in a small community in a rural setting. Would Platteville, Whitewater, Park Falls or Menomonie be as large as they are without their universities? I doubt it.
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    Cyburbian
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    I think this is an interesting idea but I'd imagine there's a large geographical component to this. I can definitely see universities creating "healthy islands" in places in the Southeast and the Midwest but I'd expect the effects would be less pronounced in the West and Northeast. Like here in the Southeast, we're already way behind in regards to healthy communities and from what I've seen, a university is still not enough to bring it up to par to a lot of places you see in other parts of the country but it's still an improvement over the surrounding area.

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I think there may be something to your logic. The universities offer a stable employment base and higher-wage technical positions that would not be typical in a small community in a rural setting. Would Platteville, Whitewater, Park Falls or Menomonie be as large as they are without their universities? I doubt it.
    Quote Originally posted by Blide View post
    I think this is an interesting idea but I'd imagine there's a large geographical component to this. I can definitely see universities creating "healthy islands" in places in the Southeast and the Midwest but I'd expect the effects would be less pronounced in the West and Northeast. Like here in the Southeast, we're already way behind in regards to healthy communities and from what I've seen, a university is still not enough to bring it up to par to a lot of places you see in other parts of the country but it's still an improvement over the surrounding area.
    I think that Cardinal has the right of it. Don't assume that rural upstate NY is all that different from the rural SE, Blide. I suspect that they have a whole more in common than not.

    In New York, villages and small cities like Fredonia, Geneseo, Alfred, Oneonta, Brockport, Canton, Ithaca, etc would be hard pressed to be much of anything without the colleges and universities located in them providing a strong employment and intellectual base. They also wouldn't have the health care or cultural facilities or other amenities that they have. These institutions also bring in people to the community who wouldn't think of moving to there if jobs didn't bring them. In the larger cities like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany, the effect of universities and colleges are somewhat watered down because there are other employment centers, but they are the raison d'etre for many of the smaller communities.
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  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    The impacts of universities and colleges are mixed (sorry Mr. Florida). You can point to Michigan and Ann Arbor, Stanford and Palo Alto, etc. But there is also Fresno State and Fresno, and even Yale and New Haven. As in most things, it all depends.
    I met some German exchange students who were studying in Flint, MI. They were warned not to wander far from the university, especially at night. Pretty sad way to show our nation.

    It would be interesting to see what communities like this can do to establish economic vibrancy related to the university. I would guess it could, potentially, make a difference if the university is public or private in that a public university's cost structure might make it easier to offer continuing ed to the community (in areas like business development). Perhaps start with basics of establishing local, community-based sourcing (of food, laundry service, etc. etc.) and paying university service workers a living wage (I'll never forget Cornell students ready to attack employees who wanted a $2 an hour raise above minimum wage ...). A campus might do toher things like engage in historic preservation work for campus expansion, train locals to work in student-oriented companies, expand into entrepreneurship training, attracting companies that benefit from being proximate to a university, or engage in public-private (or public-public) partnerships with the municipality for downtown revitalization, recreation, etc.?

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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    I think that Cardinal has the right of it. Don't assume that rural upstate NY is all that different from the rural SE, Blide. I suspect that they have a whole more in common than not.
    I may have misunderstood the topic as being related to human health rather than economic health.

    Anyway, the reason I said that is just because of how bad the urban Southeast is. When you consider the normal diet and how sprawled out the Sunbelt is, promoting any sort of healthy lifestyle is very difficult down here. From what I've seen, even university towns here are not immune from the sprawl that creates all the walkability issues. At least where I went to school, they'd rather add parking lots and buses than try to make it easier to walk or bike to campus. At least that college town saw the importance of transit unlike most places around here...

    As for economic health, I think it really depends. I know when Colorado was founded, they made sure to spread out the government institutions to all the major cities to promote fairness. Like Denver got the capital, Colorado Springs the deaf and blind school, Boulder the university, Fort Collins the agriculture school, Pueblo the state hospital, and Cañon City the prisons. Obviously the economic benefits of these varied but at the time the prison was considered one of the most desirable due to the source of free labor.

    Now nearly 150 years later, it turned out that only Colorado Springs and Pueblo drew the short end of the stick when it came to government institutions. Colorado Springs offset this by attracting the military while Pueblo focused on the steel industry. The mining industry tanked in the 1980s and Pueblo wasn't able to respond to this as well as other cities in the state. I'd say Pueblo was hit harder partly because it lacked a strong government intuition helping the economy. Admittedly both these cities do have branches from the state university systems but it seems like their significance on the communities isn't as great as the cities that received them as a principle institution.

    I guess what I'm getting at here is that any major government institution is going to benefit the local communities, especially if it's been there long enough for the economy to buildup around it. I would expect the impact of branch campuses on communities to be less than most other types of government institutions though since they're often just filling a need within the community. Flagship university campuses and military bases actually draw in large numbers of new people while I'd expect the amount for branch campuses to be minimal. If the local economy tanks in the city where the branch campus is located, I'm sure enrollment takes a much larger hit.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Another element of college towns and cities that I haven't seen mentioned is that they have tended to hold housing value a little better than the non-university places during this foreclosure crisis. I've been researching housing markets throughout the country, looking at something else, but a side observation is that most of the university towns aren't showing the tremendously undervalued housing that is prevalent in other cities.

    Of course all such generalizations must be qualified, and I'm sure there would be exceptions. Individual college towns often become over-built or under-built, and it might be that most were lagging demand when the recession hit. The phenomenon of increasing enrollments when younger people can't find jobs and opt for more education also probably is a variable.

    However, it would be intriguing to study the resilience of university-based housing markets scientifically, rather than as a by-product of a different piece of research. Maybe I'll have time for that in another life.

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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urban2rural View post
    Another element of college towns and cities that I haven't seen mentioned is that they have tended to hold housing value a little better than the non-university places during this foreclosure crisis. I've been researching housing markets throughout the country, looking at something else, but a side observation is that most of the university towns aren't showing the tremendously undervalued housing that is prevalent in other cities.

    Of course all such generalizations must be qualified, and I'm sure there would be exceptions. Individual college towns often become over-built or under-built, and it might be that most were lagging demand when the recession hit. The phenomenon of increasing enrollments when younger people can't find jobs and opt for more education also probably is a variable.
    Interesting observation. Generally speaking, healthcare related industries and education are two areas that have fared the best in this recession and so I wonder if that factors in as well. Contrast the relative job stability of those connected to universities (and I'm thinking not just of professors but all employees of the university) with a town reliant on an industry more hard hit and experiencing layoffs. I think your point about increased enrollment during times of economic turmoil is a good one, too.

    As to the health question, if we are talking about physical health, universities do often provide a wealth of amenities to a town that otherwise may not be there - playing fields, tracks, gyms, pools, trails, etc.. They also maintain a larger than average stock of young people who, statistically speaking, are healthier than an older population (which doesn't mean they are healthier than the same aged people a generation ago. Just that disease, death, hospital visits may be lower in an area with a younger average population). So, if you looked at incidence of disease or hospital vitis or some such measure, it might make the college town look healthier.

    If we are talking economic health, I think the stability of jobs and housing really provides the base needed to have a strong local economy. Which doesn't mean college towns may not be experiencing a contraction - even college kids have less spending power these days. There is also the factor of the university itself investing in public amenities that make the area more attractive to both prospective students and to retain quality professors. In a working class town, you don't see this same level of public investment, in my experience. I guess a machinist is less likely to discriiminate where they go to work based on a town's walkability or opprtunities for outdoor rercreation. Or so these companies seem to think...
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    Cyburbian
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    In Phoenix, one of the major moves to jumpstart downtown was to bring in a huge university presence. The Arizona State University downtown campus was increased significantly, several departments were moved there and new housing for students was built. Downtown had been a ghost town after office hours, but bringing the university presence and more downtown residents to the area has helped to make it a little more vibrant.

    It's a good economic developement strategy to increase the presence of a major university - can even be used for smaller scale locale!

    What I'm also finding curious is the number of businesses popping up in the 'burbs with the word "University" on them. Some type of trade school probably, but mysterious because they don't seem to have identity.

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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Reefe View post
    In Phoenix, one of the major moves to jumpstart downtown was to bring in a huge university presence. The Arizona State University downtown campus was increased significantly, several departments were moved there and new housing for students was built. Downtown had been a ghost town after office hours, but bringing the university presence and more downtown residents to the area has helped to make it a little more vibrant.
    What's interesting about this is seeing how well the schools actually integrate into a downtown area.

    I went to University of Colorado Denver which is literally right next to the downtown (a 1960s urban renewal project). The problem with it is that it's a commuter campus that's setup like an office park which doesn't mesh at all with the surrounding urban environment. To further complicate things, the parking situation on campus doesn't encourage people to stick around any longer than they have to. I'm sure the school is an economic benefit to the downtown but not as much as it otherwise could be since since no one lives there and it's poorly connected to the downtown despite being right next to it.

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    Cyburbian Hawkeye66's avatar
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    I should have defined what I meant by healthy. I wanted to take a broad view of the word. The downtowns look better, the employment bases seem more stable, infrastructure generally better, higher intellectual capital and vibrancy in mid sized cities. As a native Iowan, it pains me to say it. Its a challenge her to diversify like that. Ag and value added ag is still king. I have spent a lot of time there. I do think the vacation industry and their natural advantage in recreational resources make a difference for them too. Yes, Iowa towns with the small colleges are better off for them generally, but to varying extents. I think its something about their system. I know SUNY and some others have dispersed systems, but Wisconsin's is really spread out. Platteville is a small town. Don't towns like Ashland and Rhinelander at least offer some classes?

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Blide View post
    I'm sure the school is an economic benefit to the downtown but not as much as it otherwise could be since since no one lives there and it's poorly connected to the downtown despite being right next to it.
    I'm going down there tonight for a talk, will eat out here as I agree there isn't much around there that is decent. Its too bad - it could be a better engine.

    Quote Originally posted by Hawkeye66 View post
    I should have defined what I meant by healthy. I wanted to take a broad view of the word. The downtowns look better, the employment bases seem more stable, infrastructure generally better, higher intellectual capital and vibrancy in mid sized cities.
    Ah. So 'quality of life' instead of 'healthy'.
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  16. #16
    Cyburbian Hawkeye66's avatar
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    No. Or rather only partially. It sort of goes hand in hand, but it needn't be all faux hipster either. It can be more basic levels of employment. It can be more blue collar. These terms get too loaded.

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Reefe View post
    In Phoenix, one of the major moves to jumpstart downtown was to bring in a huge university presence. The Arizona State University downtown campus was increased significantly, several departments were moved there and new housing for students was built. Downtown had been a ghost town after office hours, but bringing the university presence and more downtown residents to the area has helped to make it a little more vibrant.

    It's a good economic developement strategy to increase the presence of a major university - can even be used for smaller scale locale!

    What I'm also finding curious is the number of businesses popping up in the 'burbs with the word "University" on them. Some type of trade school probably, but mysterious because they don't seem to have identity.
    Quote Originally posted by Blide View post
    What's interesting about this is seeing how well the schools actually integrate into a downtown area.

    I went to University of Colorado Denver which is literally right next to the downtown (a 1960s urban renewal project). The problem with it is that it's a commuter campus that's setup like an office park which doesn't mesh at all with the surrounding urban environment. To further complicate things, the parking situation on campus doesn't encourage people to stick around any longer than they have to. I'm sure the school is an economic benefit to the downtown but not as much as it otherwise could be since since no one lives there and it's poorly connected to the downtown despite being right next to it.
    In Buffalo, NY, the constant lament is that the SUNY Buffalo campus was built out in suburban Amherst rather in "downtown". The problem is that most people believe that somehow this "downtown" campus would have integrated with what is currently downtown and brought lasting prosperity to the city when, in fact, given that the campus was built in the 1970s, what would have happened would have been a levelling of several historic neighborhoods in/near downtown to accommodate an insular campus with no real connection to the surrounding area because every "new" SUNY campus built in the 1960s-1970s (there was a major push to convert the old teachers' colleges into liberal arts colleges and to create university centers all with either new or refurbished campuses) was an insular campus that didn't integrate with the community. It would have been an absolute disaster for Buffalo, but you cannot convince people that the ideas of the 1960s-1970s are not the same ideas of the 2010s. DOH.
    If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. -- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

  18. #18
    Quote Originally posted by Hawkeye66 View post
    I got thinking about our Iowa neighbors in Wisconsin and how their mid sized cities are healthier than ours and one of the main differences is that most of those towns in Wisconsin have a UW Branch Campus. In Iowa the universities are concentrated to three (Very well off I may add) communities. Do you think it makes a big difference?
    Wisconsin has almost twice the population... and is bigger.

    In Illinois there are something like 13 state schools. I think it helps the downstate communities that have schools, its basically a key economic development tool to send many kids from Chicago and the Burbs downstate for four years to a smaller community... (On the opposite end of the "success" spectrum, some downstate communities benefit from being propped up by all the prisons being located downstate...)

    Here in Iowa, same thing, Ames, Cedar Falls, and Iowa City benefit from attracting kids regionally, and from either Des Moines or other places like Illinois.

    I'm not sure if it helps the state or not, but it helps individual communities, and helps spread things out a bit.

    And with respect to Iowa... Cedar Falls is doing ok but its sister city Waterloo isn't exactly the healthiest community in the midwest....

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