Universities serve the societies that sustain them in two principal ways. As educational institutions, they provide opportunities for both young people and adults to acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to navigate a rapidly-changing world – as citizens, professionals, entrepreneurs and community leaders. And as centers of basic and applied research, they play a leading role in creating the new knowledge that enables us to address more effectively society’s most pressing needs.
There is also, however, a third way in which great universities serve society – through direct engagement in efforts to meet the needs of the communities in which they operate. At Harvard, service to the community has been integral to the life of the University for more than a century. Engagement with the community beyond the campus takes several forms:
- The work that thousands of Harvard students provide – either as volunteers in hundreds of community programs, or through “service learning” courses, in which service to the community is formally integrated into the curriculum.
- Programs through which the University makes its educational, cultural and other resources available to community residents.
- Engaged scholarship – the involvement of Harvard faculty and students in research that relates to community needs, and in the translation of research findings into programs and policy initiatives that directly address those needs.
- Direct investment by the University in community programs and projects aimed at addressing critical needs.
No issue is more critical to a community’s ability to respond to the challenges of a rapidly-changing world than the quality of its schools, and the opportunities available to its young people. Harvard is engaged in multiple ways in efforts to strengthen local schools in Boston, Cambridge and beyond, to expand educational opportunity for residents of these communities, and to eliminate barriers to student achievement.
Throughout the U.S. communities, families and individuals are faced with a complex set of challenges to their collective health and well-being – challenges that range from childhood obesity and a growing incidence of diabetes to the spread of infectious diseases to a lack of health insurance. Three of Harvard’s professional schools – Harvard Medical School, the School of Dental Medicine and the School of Public Health – offer a combination of clinical, intellectual and human resources that is particularly well suited to helping Boston-area communities address these issues.
The high cost of housing has long been one of the Boston area’s most intractable problems. High housing costs undermine the region’s ability to attract and retain the talented people on whom its economy depends – erode the living standards of working families – and impose a particularly heavy burden on low-income households and the elderly. Harvard supports local efforts to address the problem of affordable housing in several ways. Harvard students are also engaged in efforts to address local housing problems.
In a variety of ways, Harvard also helps residents of Boston-area communities acquire the skills and resources they need to take advantage of the opportunities that a rapidly changing economy presents.
Harvard also seeks to strengthen communities in the Boston area by making its cultural resources available to these communities – through programs designed to strengthen community organizations and defend the rights and interests of local community residents – and in some cases by direct investment in community improvements.