Penn in the City: Turning Awareness into Action

April 6, 2010

After a record-breaking winter, the color and buzz of spring encourage us to get out and enjoy our beautiful urban campus, our vibrant University City neighborhood, and the larger community that Penn calls home. We have a proud legacy of partnerships here, working alongside other Philadelphians to strengthen the educational, commercial, and cultural fabric of our city and region.

Penn has been an economic engine in Philadelphia for generations. Today we serve as the largest private employer, leader in health services, and world-class university that weaves civic awareness and hands-on civic action into our academic curriculum. Local engagement is an integral part of our mission. 

This year, for the first time, the federal government has asked colleges and universities to report on their top community contributions. Reporting on these contributions is an opportunity to reaffirm Penn’s commitment to what our founder Benjamin Franklin called “an inclination…to serve mankind, one’s Country, Friends and Family.”

Economically, Penn’s impact is broad: According to a report by Econsult, Penn’s yearly expenditures generate nearly $6.5 billion in economic impact for Philadelphia, or 3 percent of the city’s economy. Last year for example, Penn purchased more than $85.7 million in products and services from Philadelphia-area businesses—with $69.9 million of that going to diversity-owned suppliers. As the city’s largest private employer, Penn paid $91 million in taxes to the City of Philadelphia in 2009.

Penn also improves the health and well-being of Philadelphia. Penn contributes $2.5 million to the University City District each year, co-founded by Penn and other organizations in the area to provide supplemental municipal services in public space maintenance, public safety and economic development. Penn Medicine’s commitment to the community is fulfilled through a wide range of programs and services, including more than $100 million last year in free and underfunded care for Medicaid families. And Penn’s Living Independently for Elders (LIFE) program, run by Penn Nursing faculty and students, provides all-inclusive care to help elderly residents of West Philadelphia who need it.

We are committed to improving education in our community. Penn contributes $700,000 yearly to the Penn Alexander School, which amounts to $1,300 extra spending on each pupil. Since its opening in 2001, Penn Alexander has quickly become a national model for effective partnership between universities and public schools. Additionally, Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships is the locus of many of our community engagement efforts, including the development of nine University-assisted community schools in West Philadelphia. Last year, more than 2,000 Penn students and faculty performed more than 50,000 hours of service for more than 4,000 Philadelphia schoolchildren and their families. And Penn’s Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) courses, designed at the Netter Center, involved more than 1,500 Penn students in 59 ABC courses last year –taking them directly into the nearby communities to work in schools, clinics, and other programs.

We know that being a good neighbor benefits us as much as it benefits others. Through local engagement that ranges from tutoring and mentoring school children to upgrading local business technology, offering pro-bono legal services to the community and providing wider access to essential healthcare through community clinics, we contribute to the overall success of our city and region. Penn’s Fox Leadership Program and Civic House serve as hubs of service and community activity—committed to fostering service and leadership in Penn students through a range of programs. Last year, the Survey of Best College and University Civic Partnerships ranked Penn number-one as a “good neighbor” among 25 leading universities that were recognized for “their positive impact on their urban communities, including both commercial and residential activities such as revitalization, cultural renewal, economic and community service and development.”

This year we broke ground on Penn Park, a centerpiece of the Penn Connects master plan. In two years’ time, we will transform 24 acres of once-desolate downtown real estate into recreational facilities and green space that further green Penn’s campus and better connect Center City and West Philadelphia. This is the kind of transformation that guides Penn’s growth, and represents an investment in our city’s and region’s future.

I am proud that through service, economic support, and commitment to civic problem solving, Penn continues to pay homage to Franklin’s belief that the destiny of an eminent university is inextricably linked to the well-being of the people it serves.

Amy Gutmann