City of creativity
Partnerships among higher-ed institutions set Pittsburgh apart
With Pittsburgh vying to attract Amazon’s second headquarters, we’re reminded of the vital role that colleges and universities have played in our regional transformation and in helping to attract companies, like Amazon, to the region.
I didn’t quite realize the extent to which Pittsburgh is one of the truly great college towns in America until I moved here to become president of Chatham University. I knew about Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, but I wasn’t aware that Pittsburgh’s colleges and universities employ nearly 25,000 people and enroll more than 70,000 students. That’s more than 20 percent of the city’s population, and one of the highest concentrations of higher education talent anywhere in the United States.
What makes Pittsburgh a truly special college town, however, is not just sheer numbers, but a range of unique attributes that sets it apart from better-known higher-ed cities like Boston, and “company” towns, such as Ann Arbor and State College, dominated by a single majorresearch university.
These attributes include a diversity of excellent highered institutions. CMU, with its world-class robotics, AI and STEM programs. Pitt, with excellence in engineering, medical and biomedical sciences. Point Park’s drama and media programs, whichhave helped revitalize Downtown. Robert Morris, with its many degree-program offerings. Faith-based schools, such as Duquesne, Carlow, La Roche and the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. A broad spectrum of technical- and associate-degree offerings from the Community College of Allegheny County’s four campuses. And Chatham University, offering two of the most beautiful campuses in the country and leading programs in sustainability, health sciences and women’sleadership.
The proximity of our institutions within the city is another unique advantage. I can get on my bike at Chatham, head down Fifth Avenue and in 20 minutes cycle past seven of these institutions. Our willingness to collaborate means that students at any one of the Pittsburgh Consortium for Higher Education schools can take a course for free each term at any of the other PCHEinstitutions.
Students find Pittsburgh a particularly attractive choice in that it combines all of this with affordable, easyaccess amenities and great job prospects, making it a top-rated city for new graduates. In addition to receiving a world-class education, they can enjoy great restaurants in diverse neighborhoods, wonderful museums and cultural institutions, a sports fan’s dream in black and gold, and great outdoor activities in the rivers, parks andsurrounding hills.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Pittsburgh’s higher-ed institutions is their close partnership with government, corporations, nonprofits and Pittsburgh’s strong set of foundations, which have played such a vital part in transforming the Steel City into a hub for technology innovation and “ed and meds.”
Twenty years ago, my research on the world’s most successful high-tech clusters pointed to the research and talent that universities produce and the interconnectedness between key stakeholders as critical features of successful highskill ecosystems. These findings were confirmed last month in the Brookings Institution report, “Capturing the Next Economy,” which found that, while Pittsburgh’s innovation economy is strong and growing, we can do even more with our assets to compete globally and capitalize on the region’s growing innovation clusters.
There are, however, a couple of disturbing longterm trends. First is the decline in the number of high school graduates in the Western Pennsylvania region, one of the sharpest in the United States, which is putting downward pressure on enrollment for the region’s colleges and universities. This trend may be intensified by policies, such as those in our neighboring state, New York, to make public higher education “free” for many residents.
For these reasons, it is imperative that we intensify our joint efforts to foster and promote Pittsburgh as one of the world’s great higher-education cities. If we are to fill the projected regional shortage of 80,000 workers over the next decade highlighted in the Allegheny Conference’s “Inflection Point” report, we need to attract more top students from across the nation and around the world to our institutions and region.
Chatham University is proud to have been part of Pittsburgh’s educational community for nearly 150 years. I look forward to continuing to work with other university, city and regional leaders to position Pittsburgh as a worldwide leader in the transformative power of education in our cities, communities and the lives of our students.