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Rising from the Underground: How One University Hopes to Boost Enrollment by Teaming up with Tech Hub for Adult-Ed

Written by Amanda Maher

Shaw University is a private liberal arts institution and historically black university in Raleigh, NC. For many years, the university had suffered from declining enrollment and worsening debt. When President Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy came on board last year, she committed to transforming Shaw into a premier 21st-century institution.

And already, President Dubroy is making headway to that end.

Last month, Shaw University announced it would be moving its adult degree program, the Center for Alternative Programs in Education (CAPE), to the former American Tobacco Campus in Durham, NC. The former tobacco warehouse was abandoned until its renovation in 2010, and with 1 million square feet of space, it is the state’s largest historic renovation project

But where the program is moving is less impressive than why it is being relocated.

Since 1994, more than 4,000 “non-traditional” students have graduated from the CAPE program at one of eight CAPE centers located throughout the Tar Heel State. Its self-directed curricula are geared toward students who are unable to attend traditional college and university programs given other family, work or military service obligations. But in recent years, CAPE has suffered from a sharp decline in enrollment.

The move is part of a strategic partnership between Shaw University and The American Underground, an entrepreneurial development facility that started in the basement of the Strickland Building on the American Tobacco Campus and has grown into one of the region’s most vibrant entrepreneurial hubs.

While North Carolina’s Research Triangle (between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) has long served as a nucleus for innovation, the American Underground is credited with the recent surge in local startup activity, and has since been designated as one of nine North American tech hubs in the Google for Entrepreneurs network. The American Underground started with just five organizations and has since grown into an ecosystem of more than 250, with facilities now in both Durham and Raleigh.

By co-locating with American Underground, Shaw hopes to bolster CAPE enrollment by offering courses in a vibrant, contemporary learning environment in which students have direct exposure to tech companies and a broad array of entrepreneurs.

By relocating, “Shaw creates a unique opportunity for its students to interface with business and technology executives,” a university press release states. “The move also exposes American Underground tenants to the university’s pool of talented graduates and creates opportunities for students to engage in research which can then be leveraged for private and public funding opportunities.”

The partnership is especially beneficial for Shaw students given American Underground’s stated mission to become a leader in diversity and inclusiveness.

“This is a win-win partnership for both Shaw University and American Underground,” says Shaw Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Paulette Dillard.  “This important collaboration serves as a model for how business, technology, and education can marry to create innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing issues,” explains Dillard.

The Durham/American Underground CAPE site officially opened its doors on August 8th when Shaw students returned to campus for the fall semester.

On the heels of announcing this partnership, Shaw and Capitol Broadcasting Company (CBC) (which owns the American Tobacco Campus and the American Underground) also completed negotiations to move the university’s Rocky Mount CAPE program to Rocky Mount Mills, a historic campus that CBC owns and is redeveloping along the Haw Tar River. CBC has envisioned the Rocky Mount Mills to be a similarly vibrant mixed-use community to help cultivate the innovation ecosystem in eastern North Carolina.

“Together, we’re laying the groundwork for an even greater degree of entrepreneurship here and an even wider pool of top talent to fill 21st century jobs,” says Evan Covington Chavez, manager at Rocky Mount Mills.

This innovative partnership between Shaw University and the American Underground is an example of how anchor institutions can create shared value for their local communities. For minimal investment, Shaw was able to lease space in an entrepreneurial hub that affords students valuable exposure to networking, startup culture and entrepreneurial advisement. Meanwhile, American Underground benefits from a new revenue stream and its tenants from exposure to a diverse talent pool and opportunities for new industry partnerships.


Learn more about the many ways anchors can promote shared value:


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