On the Table Philly 2017: ESI Edition

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On Tuesday, May 23, 2017, Econsult Solutions joined organizations across Philadelphia to break bread with representatives from the local higher education scene along with developers to discuss how higher ed institutions can act not only as regional economic engines, but as neighbors that help shape and define a community.


Participants from Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), Drexel University, Temple University, U3 Ventures, University of Pennsylvania (Penn), University of the Arts and West Philadelphia Financial Services (WPFSI) attended the lunchtime roundtable. The discussion was part of On the Table, a forum designed to engage area residents and thought leaders in an open dialogue while inspiring solutions that strengthen our local community.

The first issue on the table was the relationship between universities and their host communities.  “The fate of Penn is directly linked to West Philly”, said Anthony Sorrentino, Assistant Vice President at the University of Pennsylvania. “You can’t be a world-class institution without first being a world class neighbor.”

The group explored current academic practices, and questioned whether current models would provide a lasting value that engages students. “Are people only attending college to get a job? Some probably, but for a lot of students it means more. The whole experience matters,” said Alex Feldman of U3 Ventures. “A major concern is how we foster students into becoming more active and engaged citizens that go out and empower our communities” wondered Neil Kleinman, Director of the Corzo Center for the Creative Economy at University of the Arts.

Another issue raised during the conversation was the mounting cost of our current education system, and how some are finding the idea of going to school less desirable. “Students are the future, but a lot of them have $100,000 in debt and are working minimum wage jobs.  How do we better engage those students?” asked Abeer El-Zaher, a Temple student.

“This is really important because a lot of Philadelphia residents don’t want to go to school; they want to leave their neighborhoods because they don’t see available opportunities. We lose some very talented people because we think they’re not the ‘right student’ for an organization,” said Jim Burnett, Executive Director of WPFSI.

David Thomas, Associate Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at CCP echoed these feelings by adding, “We need to drill down and better understand the outside experiences our students face in everyday life. If we want to see our communities improve, we can’t pick and choose who we accept into our institutions. We need to use equity as a means to bridge opportunity gaps.”

In addition, higher ed institutions face new pressures coming from the private world as they find themselves competing with programs designed by corporations. Sorrentino said that what keeps him up at night is young people who don’t want to go to college but choose to learn directly from those private programs.

“The question we should truly reflect on is what is the future of learning? How do we go beyond the boundaries of traditional academia? I think we need to expand our models so that students continue to see the value and buy in to going. Students are also stakeholders, not just trustees,” said Nixon, a Professor at Fels and Senior Advisor at ESI.


“College needs to be affordable and as students, we need incentives to keep us in the region. It’s important for higher ed institutions to have an open dialogue with the community”, reiterated El-Zaher before the end of the discussion.

On the Table Philly was sponsored by The Philadelphia Foundation and the Knight Foundation. The aim of these conversations is to create an honest dialogue that inspires new ways of working together to make our communities stronger.

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