Committed Citizens Make for Effective Intentional Partnerships

Margaret Mead is often quoted as saying "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

I get that. That ripple effect of starting small, and then reaching further and further out to effect real change is sometimes almost imperceptible. Until you look back and see where all those small steps have taken you. Sometimes it's your own world that gets changed. Sometimes it can be the whole world.

Right now my immediate world is the only public 2-year college in our city of Saint Paul. We bear the city's name in our moniker -- Saint Paul College. We've been a comprehensive community and technical college since 2002 and have grown by over 90 percent in the last few years, now serving over 11,000 students each year.

But we started small -- in the basement of one of Saint Paul's high schools back in 1910. A few local builders established the Builders Exchange of St. Paul. Then they convinced the Saint Paul Board of Education and the Superintendent of Schools of the necessity of providing vocational training to boys in order to bridge the gap of skilled laborers. From this modest idea by local builders of a "Boys Vocational School," with just a few kids getting vocational training, we grew to be this community and technical college now offering degree, diploma and certificate programs for over 100 different programs.

That initial intentional partnership between the Builders Exchange and the Saint Paul Board of Education and public schools gave birth to this community-centric community college. We keep growing because every day, every year, every decade we continue to reach out to small groups of committed citizens who believe in public education. Who believe in trying to keep college education affordable despite the economic swings; who believe that education is a real tool that can produce real results in anyone's life.

Education is not an exclusive commodity to be brokered only to the privileged -- and should not be treated as such. As a public institution we are here to serve everyone. Rich. Poor. Old. Young. That's why intentional partnerships matter. Being a public institution, we are automatically tied to government and government funding and what dollars legislators allocate to us. In 2002, the state covered 2/3 of the cost of a MnSCU education, and the student paid 1/3. By 2013, these ratios have nearly reversed, and families have had to make up for what was once clearly understood to be -- and was funded as such -- a critical public good. (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Financial and Demographic Data February 13, 2013). Government funding and scholarships take care of only some needs of most students. Our Power of YOU program, which is made possible by numerous community and business benefactors, makes the first two years of college tuition-free to as many high school new graduates as possible based on student financial needs. More importantly, it is specifically structured to help narrow the achievement gap, with the Power of YOU students receiving additional advising and support services to help them succeed at college.

Intentional partnerships go beyond money. To paraphrase Mead, we need all of those small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens to help change the world of education. It is all those small groups of people who help negotiate the way of their corporations, foundations, non-profits and community organizations to help not only bridge the monetary gap but the achievement gap of our current and future students. Whether it's our many partnership programs with Saint Paul Public Schools in helping to better prepare middle and senior high students for college, or community-wide initiatives such as Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood (SPPN) to provide the academic and social supports children need to succeed in school and in life, or Generation Next, a coalition of civic, business and education leaders which aims to close the achievement and opportunity gaps for students of color in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, we continually seek out intentional partnerships to help close the achievement gap for children in our community.

Our intentional partnerships don't just focus on the needs of middle and high school students. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) calls upon us all to improve our nation's workforce development system and help put Americans back to work. Along with sixteen construction industry partners, Saint Paul College, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (MnDOLI), and the St. Paul Building and Construction Trades Council is working as a collaborative to develop and implement the "Skills Trades Pipeline Project-Trades Up" project to prepare 140 individuals to enter apprenticeship programs. Under-represented populations, such as lower-income women, minority groups and veterans, will have greater access to opportunities in the construction trades, and Saint Paul College's capacity to train and certify trainees for quicker entry in the trades will be increased.

We need every voice possible to help carry out the changes of small groups of committed citizens. If solving challenges that we encounter each and every day is good for our students and our community, then we have done good for our college. This is why pursuing and implementing intentional partnerships matter.