Partnerships for Community Impact: Higher Education and CDFIs Working Together

Dec 13, 2012
  • Description

Institutions of higher education and community development financial institutions (CDFIs) have a long history of partnering with one another to strengthen their local communities. However, until now, there has been little research conducted to understand the breadth and depth of these partnerships. In November 2011, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund ("The Fund") commissioned Opportunity Finance Network ("OFN") to undertake a two-phase research study to explore the relationship between CDFIs and institutions of higher education. The first phase of the study, a national survey of CDFIs, provided insights into the types and characteristics of partnerships that exist between CDFIs and colleges and universities. Seventy-two (72) organizations from 34 states and Washington, D.C. responded to OFN's survey. From this survey, three key themes emerged:

  • Partnerships between institutions of higher education and CDFIs are more common than one might think: Eighty-two percent (82%) of CDFIs report working in partnership with higher education, generally with four-year institutions, and with public institutions more than private ones.
  • While there are many types of partnerships, working together on community-focused initiatives is most frequent. The most successful partnerships leverage the financial resources and expertise from both institutions of higher education and CDFIs to co-invest in projects that build the local community. Other types of partnerships include research partnerships (the college or university provides research for the CDFI), and training/education partnerships (the college or university provides technical assistance or education to the borrowers of the CDFI).
  • These partnerships are enduring, most frequently lasting five years or more. Factors driving the success of these partnerships include strong relationships between the CDFI and the college's leadership and staff, and the institution's commitment to community development and community relations.
In the second phase of the study, case studies were gathered to highlight examples of successful collaboration between institutions of higher education and CDFIs. These case studies illustrate the diversity of opportunities available to achieve shared or complementary goals through partnership, such as:
  • Improving Access to Healthy Food: Food deserts, or minimal community access to healthy foods, are a problem seen across the United States. La Salle University and The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) addressed this problem in northern Philadelphia as part of a larger community revitalization project. Together with other members of the community, TRF and La Salle developed an 80,000 square foot retail center adjacent to La Salle's campus. In addition to providing fresh, healthy food for the underdeveloped neighborhood, the project created 250 jobs and used green building methods to reduce energy consumption.
  • Increasing Child Care and Education Options: The University of Chicago and University of Chicago Hospitals System, in partnership with IFF, a CDFI serving Chicago, embarked on an initiative to expand capacity for child care providers in the local economically distressed community. This project created new child care options for 60 additional children, and spawned two additional projects. With assistance from IFF once again, the University of Chicago created its own child care center on campus for employees' children, and subsequently opened its own charter school, which now has four branches serving low-income communities across the city.
  • Developing Small Business and Entrepreneurship: Small business has long been acknowledged as a key pathway to economic prosperity, but entrepreneurs need both business skills and access to capital to succeed. The relationship between Hope Enterprise Corporation, a CDFI serving the Gulf Coast, and Delgado Community College is working to train entrepreneurs and provide access to capital in the greater New Orleans area. Under the agreement of the partnership forged through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, Delgado provides business training to entrepreneurs and Hope provides loan capital to those who complete the training.
  • Revitalizing Distressed Neighborhoods: Located just one block north of Duke University's east campus, Walltown had fallen into disrepair in the early 1990s, with high crime rates and dilapidated houses. In 1994, Duke and Self-Help, a national CDFI headquartered in North Carolina, began a decade-long effort to revitalize and stabilize this neighborhood. With financing from both entities for construction and subsidies, they renovated or built 77 properties in the neighborhood and several community facilities, and made it possible for residents to become homeowners. As a result of the project, crime rates dropped by almost 50 percent in Walltown while property values rose in nearly all (99 percent) Walltown properties, including those that were not renovated in the project.
  • Measuring Social Impact: CDFIs are always looking for ways to measure their social impact; meanwhile universities are constantly in search of significant research projects for their students and faculty. As a result of these complimentary needs, the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business (Darden) and Latino Community Credit Union (LCCU) teamed up to assess the social impact of opening new branches in "unbanked" Latino communities. Darden found that when LCCU opened a new branch, armed robberies declined by 22.6 percent and properties values rose by 3.8 percent. The groundbreaking report was widely disseminated and referenced in major publications, achieving the goals of university research. The research also helped LCCU communicate the impact of its work to its supporters.
Through this research, it is clear that partnerships between institutions of higher education and CDFIs provide solutions to a wide variety of challenges that face our communities. We hope that leaders of institutions of higher education and CDFIs will understand the great potential for building relationships with each other, and will explore new opportunities for collaboration and investment to benefit their communities.