The town-gown relationship


  • What’s happening between your campus and community?
  • Who you look like?
  • Where you need to take action?
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The Optimal College Town Assessment (OCTA) is designed to measure campus and community member perceptions of one another. Scores generated by OCTA take the guesswork out of understanding town-gown relationships.

Current Challenges

Campus-Community Relationships

What if you had a marriage that was arranged by others, which could not be ended, but that you had to make work regardless of how you felt about your partner? That, in a nutshell, is the relationship between a college campus and the community that surrounds it. The vows that state "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health," and so on, need never be said out loud between these partners. They are an applied fact of life for any city or town containing an institution of higher education in its midst.


Opportunities for Success

As the college or university goes, so goes the community, and the opposite is just as true. This is an arranged marriage, and one with little prospects of divorce proceedings that would ever permanently disconnect the partners from each other. And while the prospect of an arranged marriage with no opportunity for divorce may seem unappealing in a marriage between people, some universities and towns make their relationship work quite well. On the other hand, there are many others that have not been nearly as successful.

As described below, the OCTA is designed to measure the quality of the relationships between your campus and community, as well as providing you with strategies to strengthen those relationships.

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Three elements that enhance campus-community relationships

Building more harmonious campus-community relationships has never been easier.


Baseline Assessment Strategy

One critical element in understanding and enhancing campus-community relationships involves an assessment of perceptions about the connections between campus representatives – students, faculty, administrative leaders, staff, board of trustees – and various stakeholders in the community – business and industry leaders, local school district teachers and administrators, clergy, directors of non-profit organizations, and the like. The Optimal College Town Assessment (OCTA) is a brief survey instrument designed to measure these campus and community perceptions. Scores generated by OCTA help users to identify the category within the town-gown typology that best describes the current characteristics of the town-gown relationship.


Planning and Implementing an Engagement Strategy

A second element in understanding and enhancing campus-community relationships involves the use of the OCTA results to plan and implement an engagement strategy that is specifically tailored to the perceptions and needs of your town-gown relationship type. A Mobilization Cycle that specifies awareness raising, coalition building, information interpretation, and evidence based action is used to provide some organizational structure to these efforts.


Creating an Evaluation Strategy for Your Engagement Efforts

The third element in understanding and enhancing campus-community relationships involves the creation of a strategy for evaluating your engagement efforts. This type of work typically involves the development of a logic model in order to specify those activities and outputs that would realistically lead to short term and longer term positive outcomes.


Town-Gown Relationships

Four Distinct Types

Gavazzi et al. (2014) have used two distinct yet related conceptual dimensions to describe the quality of interactions that occur between campus representatives and members of the community. The first of the two dimensions surrounds the level of comfort that the current relationship holds for higher education personnel and community stakeholders.

The second dimension centers on the level of effort that is required to maintain the present state of the town-gown relationship. By combining the comfort and effort dimensions, these scholars presented these four types of campus-community relationships.

Gavazzi, Stephen M., Michael Fox, and Jeff Martin. 2014. “Understanding campus and community relationships through marriage and family metaphors: A town-gown typology.” Innovative Higher Education. doi:10.1007/s10755-014-9288-1.

Higher effort, higher comfort. The harmonious type is the most desirable form of town-gown relationship. Partners are dynamically involved in a significant number of activities that are of shared benefit to both the campus and community, resulting in a sense of connectedness and joint purpose. High levels of comfort are maintained and enhanced by mutual exchanges of information and exertion.


Lower effort, higher comfort.The traditional type is thought to be the default state of affairs for most campuses and communities, and generates modest amounts of relationship satisfaction. This town-gown category retains its desirable status because it takes little work to create a comfortable if sterile relationship.


Higher effort, lower comfort. The conflicted type generates overall reduced satisfaction levels, but partners are still engaged with one another in an attempt to work out relationship issues. The main difficulty for this town-gown relationship type involves the persistent nature of quarrels among the partners.


Lower effort, lower comfort. The devitalized type represents relationships with the least amount of overall satisfaction between campus and community members. The hallmark here is disappointment and loss, stemming from the fact that a more active and comfortable association had existed at some previous point.


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