Town and Gown collaboration key to Adams State's success

(07-18-2008)

Opinion by Dr. David Svaldi, president of Adams State College

"Town and gown" is shorthand for the stereotyped relationship between ivory tower academics and "townies" in small college communities. The stereotype holds that residents of bucolic rural areas have little in common with the privileged students and professors at the elite private colleges in their midst - except perhaps mutual animosity.

This stereotype crumbles in the San Luis Valley. Adams State College has always made service to its community a top priority; local citizens support the college and value its contributions. In contrast to the classic college town pattern, Adams State was founded specifically to provide teachers for rural Colorado; one-third of our current students call the surrounding area home.

That doesn't mean tensions never arise, but Adams State and community members work hard to share perspectives and reach consensus. Many civic, educational, and business leaders serve on college governing and fund raising boards; the community in general supports a range of cultural and athletic activities at ASC.

Few will argue that Adams State does not benefit the area. A Targeted Industry Study contracted for by Alamosa's Economic Development Coordinating Committee found the presence of two colleges to be a major strength for the city. Most important is the opportunity of a higher education for local citizens. Adams State's state-legislated status as a Regional Education Provider also recognizes the college's importance in economic development and cultural enrichment. An independent study conducted in 2005 found Adams State is responsible for a total economic impact in the region of more than $70 million a year. ASC's Community Partnerships office facilitates economic and community development by connecting college resources with community needs.

Less obvious is the degree to which community collaboration is essential to the college's success. Adams State is integral to Alamosa and the Valley and shares in their windfalls hardships -- case in point: the salmonella inconvenience of last spring. Because ASC is not an island - or a walled campus on the hill isolated from local events and people - we depend on the community to help attract and serve our students.

Enrollment at Adams State is stable, but does fluctuate. The simplest way to achieve enrollment growth would be to retain more students. Unfortunately, on average, 45% of our freshmen leave after their first year. Their stated reasons range from inadequate academic preparation to financial problems to relationship and family issues. We strive to mitigate some of these problems with Orientation and First-Year Experience programs, tutoring and counseling, and targeted financial aid.

Students tell us modern living and learning facilities matter. The campus setting can be even more important than academic programs when a student is selecting a college. So, Adams State has begun $60 million-worth of construction projects that will significantly improve and beautify our campus environment over the next five years. The economic impact of this construction will also benefit the Alamosa and Valley economy to the tune of roughly $150 million. A lynchpin in this plan is construction of a new residence hall.

But some students leave Adams State because they say "there's nothing to do." Some have the impression the town doesn't care about them or serve their needs. Two departing female students told me that Alamosa is "not a college town," but a "small town with a college in it."

Part of the solution to this issue lies within the community. First impressions could be vastly improved by beautifying sidewalks and storefronts, tidying up outlying areas, and preserving Alamosa's historic charm. New retail businesses that cater to college students would help maintain that positive impression. Students would also welcome more entertainment and recreation options, as well as business hours more convenient for the busy student life style.

To kick start action, this fall Adams State will present its first "Billy Thanks You Awards," named for ASC founder Billy Adams. The award will recognize a few Alamosa merchants and businesses who take the lead in city-wide clean up and beautification or in appealing to ASC students

It's important, also, to value our college students for more than the dollars they spend on rent and food, beer and movie rentals. ASC's 2,500-strong student body also enriches our community with its youth, energy, and diversity.

Let's work together so that more choose to return to Alamosa as sophomores, junior, and seniors, and perhaps even decide to call this caring community their home upon graduation.