Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Affairs

First Advisor's Name

Milena Neshkova

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Howard Frank

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Allan Rosenbaum

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Benjamin Baez

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


Town/gown, Local Government, Higher Education, Collaboration, Engagement, Anchor Institutions

Date of Defense



This dissertation analyzes the engagement between universities and their respective municipalities. Although a sizable amount of research has explored relationships between town and gown, we still lack a clear understanding of why engagement works better between some universities and municipalities but not for others. This dissertation argues that university engagement with local governments, while a necessary and increasingly important part of institutional activities, cannot be effective unless it is done in earnest collaboration with the localities. Short of collaboration, engagement between town and gown only exists as a unilateral relationship, which despite its actual benefits, undermines trust and can cause frustration for both parties. The study contributes to the growing literature advocating a shift away from a paternalistic diffusion of resources from universities toward localities by analyzing a collaborative approach to engagement.

Employing a cross-sectional study of 122 universities and municipalities, this dissertation examines how the collaborative capacity of each of the two parties impacts their perceptions of engagement and collaboration. Additionally, using 62 local government-university pairs, the study explores the factors that affect the proclivity of parties to agree on their levels of engagement and consider it mutually beneficial. Finally, semi-structured interviews with university administrators and local government officials sheds light on how the understanding of engagement might differ between the two institutions and explores the factors that can help or hinder the collaboration process.

The quantitative analysis revealed that leadership and trust are positively associated with engagement, while the measure of shared vision was most positively associated with collaboration. Qualitative findings demonstrate that town-gown engagement often carries a different meaning, which is largely dependent on an institutional vantage point. Overall, the findings of this dissertation establish that collaboration is the mechanism through which the independent parties of institutions of higher education and local governments work together to achieve results that they would not otherwise be able to independently achieve on their own.





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