Government funding continues to shrink for public colleges and universities. At the same time, there is a public outcry for lower tuition, on-line courses, and easy access to education. Education officials seek relief and many are finding it through collaborative initiatives.

The federal government is encouraging, incentivizing and occasionally directing collaborative initiatives. President Donald Trump signed an executive order called the American AI Initiative. It directs federal agencies to partner with private industry and research universities to prioritize artificial intelligence (AI) programs. University officials are urged to make data and computing resources available to AI researchers and to establish fellowship programs so that students and individuals in the workforce have access to AI-relevant technology skills.

At the federal level of government, the Department of Defense has launched a Joint AI Center and funded it with $2 billion for research in the AI Next campaign program. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is discussing ways to speed up data analysis and data collection in collaborative ways with partners. The same type of initiatives are happening at the state and local levels of government, particularly on educational campuses.


CSJ Change is rampant on university campuses

Former College of St. Joseph

100-page study may breathe new life into a college that was closed earlier in the year. The former College of St. Joseph (CSJ) in Vermont may become the CSJ Center for Excellence and Innovation by way of a public-private partnership (P3). The plan is to create an innovation hub to offer certificate programs, workforce training, co-working spaces, and support for start-up firms. This effort began after two schools, Southern Vermont College and Green Mountain College, closed. A third, Marlboro College in Vermont, is searching for a partner and another, Goddard College, is struggling. Visionaries in Vermont have committed to help and planning is ongoing for a major collaborative initiative. CSJ is located in the city of Rutland, a designated Opportunity Zone, which will qualify investors for tax benefits.


California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) has approximately 8,000 students living on campus and officials plan to build additional student housing while also lowering the cost. This will be done through a P3. Plans call for the construction of townhouses, retail development, and outdoor amenities on campus. The Cal Poly Master Plan details how the  campus will become more of a residential community for undergraduates.

Officials from San Diego State in California recently submitted a proposal of $87.7 million to the city of San Diego for the purchase of 135 acres of Mission Valley land. The university hopes to have control of the property soon and will launch an initiative that includes construction of a 35,000 seat multi-use stadium, several hike and bike trails, residential units, a campus innovation district, and a public River Park. A P3 will provide some of the required funding for the project.


The University of Minnesota-Rochester (UMR) and the YMCA have announced plans to form a P3 for student housing. A 150,000-square-foot building with living and dining space for students will be constructed. There will be additional space for a YMCA wellness center. Additional areas will be set aside for classrooms, offices, and common areas. The proposed idea was first mentioned in UMR’s 2014 Campus Master Plan and this project is moving quickly.

North Carolina

East Carolina University (ECU) is exploring the possibility of developing an aviation institute of excellence. Officials hope to engage in a P3 for construction of a facility that will offer micro-certifications and specialized training courses for the aerospace industry. Discussions are ongoing related to including additional space for programs related to cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and smart manufacturing.


Northwest Florida State College (NWFSC), Crestview Technology Air Park and the Hsu Educational Foundation are teaming to launch an Airframe & Power Plant program. Over the next year, a facility, estimated between 24,000 and 28,000 square feet, will be built to house the program at the Crestview Technology Air Park, which is located at Bob Sikes Airport. Partnerships will be formed with area school districts to recruit students interested in the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Math).


Montgomery County has engaged a firm to help attract a four-year university to the area. One option is the University System of Maryland. A 2018 study from Empower Montgomery outlines the plan to attract research programs related to entrepreneurship and federal work. There is also interest in a research center in White Flint.


Oregon State University (OSU) completed an $80 million project on the east side of Reser Stadium in 2007. The west side, however, remains virtually untouched and the institution has significant deferred maintenance issues. Officials hope to launch a major initiative to remedy both situations through a P3. The objective will be to upgrade and revitalize parts of the campus. A feasibility study is underway in preparation for a west side project that will include a multi-use facility that also houses health care components.

Officials at colleges and universities are leading initiatives that are destined to change campuses in significant ways. Students, taxpayers, economic development organizations, and citizens in the region will all benefit.

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Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.