A panel of city government and local university leaders said Wednesday that the contributions of colleges in the District largely go unnoticed.
“D.C. is a college town and I really feel that is an underappreciated reality here,” University President Steven Knapp said in front of more than 50 people at the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership.
Other higher education leaders in attendance included presidents of Southeastern University and Corcoran College of Art and Design. Knapp said universities contributed more than $5 billion to the District last year. This includes more than $760 million of funded research, $143 million of by GW, he said at the event entitled “Harnessing the intellectual firepower of universities for the benefit of the community.”
“Seventy-two percent of that comes from federally sponsored research. That’s all money that if the universities weren’t here would not be spent in the District,” he said.
Lack of appreciation for universities partly comes from focus on local battles over campus plans and zoning issues, said Harriet Tregoning, panelist and director of the D.C. Office of Planning.
“So much of how the city and the universities interact is very transactional, and around campus plans and expansions and those kinds of things, and less on the bigger picture,” Tregoning said.
The panel included two city officials, three university presidents and a former director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Though universities contribute much to D.C., colleges and the community must engage in more collaboration and communication on key issues such as environmental protection, panelists said.
Knapp said GW has already begun the process of becoming more environmentally friendly with the establishment of a sustainability taskforce and elements in the 20-year Campus Plan.
“Our own campus development in the city is a lab for thinking about sustainability because we do have a campus plan . we will be renovating a lot of our facilities,” he said. “I think our focus very much is on urban sustainability.”
He added that the lessons from GW’s campus development can then be added to curriculum and spread throughout the city to help the District become a leader in environmental stability.
The panel also discussed how universities can reach out to D.C. high school students and community members. Panelist Charlene Jarvis, president of Southeastern University, said colleges “cannot admit those who haven’t been taught because they won’t be successful.”
A pre-college institution, she said, would help alleviate the problem and allow disadvantaged local students an opportunity to get the schooling necessary for District jobs, 40 percent of which require a college diploma.
Knapp said GW already has many programs reaching out to D.C. high school students that are not publicized adequately, such as scholarships and volunteer work.
“As I hear people mentioning things like how to get students out there to connect with public schools, we have hundreds of students involved in tutoring” he said.
Graduate student Josh Lasky, who attended the discussion, said he attended because the University’s participation in D.C. affairs is very important.
He said, “I think GW as an institution must zealously pursue its place within the city and engage in these discussions and partnerships.”