Dramatic shifts in the economy associated with the rise of globalism call into question the traditional ways in which land-grant institutions have defined their roles in contributing to economic and social well-being. Since the assets most needed for global economic viability - a base of innovation, talented people, and ubiquitous connectivity - are core strengths of universities, it is fair to ask how these institutions can more holistically engage with economically distressed regions to build critical innovation economy competencies. Evidence suggests that although linking 21 st century regional economic competitiveness to university contributions is a concept gaining momentum in policy circles, few models exist, particularly in regions not proximate to university campuses.
This qualitative study took a three-tier approach to exploring models of "distributed" land-grant regional engagement and associated implications for state policy development. It began by identifying six land-grant institutions partnering with nonlocal regions: Michigan State University, Purdue University, the University of Georgia, the University of Minnesota, the University of Missouri, and Virginia Tech. From these six institutional models, two cases of distributed regional engagement were selected and studied: University of Georgia - Moultrie/Colquitt (southwest Georgia), and Virginia Tech - Southside (south central Virginia). Finally, state policy perspectives on university-led economic development in Georgia and Virginia were examined.
A conceptual model was developed to portray the relationships between the conditions that create the potential for engagement, the catalytic factors in regions and universities that spark a partnering relationship, and the policy elements that constitute the framework for engagement. It demonstrates the opportunity to accelerate the velocity of investment, adoption, and partnership between universities and regions.
Key findings suggest that university commitment to holistic engagement is dependent on partnerships that provide substantial institutional benefits. A critical ingredient of successful university-regional partnerships is a core group of regional leaders who embrace the potential to partner with a university and who keep their regions focused on the partnership. Shaping state policy to incentivize university-regional partnerships should consider how to align regional and university goals, the scale of funding needed, appropriate short- and long-term measures of success, and the involvement of public and private leaders in governance structures.