Last week, Congressman David Wu announced a new piece of legislation that will invest in urban universities and their surrounding communities nationwide in order to increase economic prosperity and innovation.
Wu, alongside Portland State President Wim Wiewel and Sheila Martin, director of PSU's Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies, announced the new Urban University Renaissance Act of the 21st Century in the Academic and Student Recreation Center on June 21 to a small room of individuals, including several of Wu's staff members. The legislation was introduced to Congress the following day.
"While we face many challenges in Oregon and in our nation...none are more vital, more urgent than the recovery of our economy," Wu said at the press conference. "Urban universities serve as the anchors of our nation's cities and [are] at the heart of our economic revival and renewal."
According to Wu, PSU serves as a model institution for urban universities striving to build partnerships with their metropolitan areas. The measure aims to nationalize "the Portland State model" and to lend urban universities the resources needed to better serve their communities.
If passed, Wu's bill would re-establish a program in the Higher Education Act to provide grants to the institutions in order to allow them to address various problems within their regions and to expand urban renewal in areas such as K-12 education, healthcare, innovation, economic development, sustainability and housing.
For example, the measure will encourage universities to work with city leaders and superintendents to ensure that high school graduation requirements are more aligned with college and workforce expectations, Wu said.
In addition, according to Wu, the bill will support grant programs to fund urban university research, especially in areas of environmental issues in low-income neighborhoods.
"When we involve urban universities in a more systematic way in our communities, we can amplify the good work that they do," he said.
Wiewel compared the legislation to a business incubator established in north Portland in 1996 through a one-time grant. The incubator is still in operation today and has supported over 420 companies and has provided over 1,300 jobs for students, he said.
"That is just an example of what can be done with a one-time grant," he said. "Just think about what can happen when it becomes ongoing support in many more areas."
According to Martin, the legislation will also benefit the IMS, which conducts research and gathers data about trends that are affecting the area.
Commenting on the measure's significance, Martin said, "It will encourage urban universities to work with community partners on problems that really matter to our community."
During the press conference, Wu declined to provide any specific details on the legislation's estimated cost.
"The estimated cost is significant but very, very worthwhile," he said.
Urban University Renaissance Act at a glance:
According to a press release, Wu's new education legislation aims to:
-Help more teachers learn the specific skills needed to successfully teach in urban environments.
-Encourage urban universities to work alongside mayors, superintendents and business leaders in their cities and regions to ensure that high school graduation requirements are better aligned with college and workforce expectations.
-Re-establish a program in the Higher Education Act to support the multi-faceted work of urban schools.
-Support university research on environmental issues in low-income neighborhoods.
-Provide for public health research to reduce health disparities and to improve care.
-Help urban universities provide assistance to local nonprofits committed to community development and affordable housing, in addition to strengthening existing programs to make them more effective locally.
-Strengthen innovation policies to promote partnerships that create regional economic growth.
The full text of Wu's bill is available at www.thomas.gov.