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Community-Based Research and Higher Education

Tomorrow's Research

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This book provides a clear understanding of the academic role CBR [community-bases research] can have in applying faculty research expertise, improving student learning through hands-on experience, and strengthening collaborative partnerships that can bring reciprocal benefits to both the academy and the community.


The posting below is a review by Timothy J. Peterson of the book, COMMUNITY-BASED RESEARCH AND HIGHER EDUCATION: PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES, by Kerry Strand, Sam Marullo, Nick Cutforth, Randy Stoecker, and Patrick Donohue. Publisher: Jossey-Bass; (May 23, 2003) ISBN: 0787962058. It appeared in the March-May, 2004 issues of Planning for Higher Education. 32(3): 51-53. Reprinted with permission. Planning for Higher Education book reviews appear at: (


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Research


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Reviewed by Timothy J. Peterson


In a 1995 address to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Ernest Boyer (1997) gave a compelling charge: "Higher education in this country has an urgent obligation to become more vigorously engaged in the issues of our day?[by] creating a special climate in which the academic and civic cultures communicate more continuously and more creatively with each other" (89, 92). Community-Based Research and Higher Education: Principles and Practices provides faculty, community actors, and academic administrators with a set of well-articulated strategies on how to foster and pursue Boyer's vision.

The authors, Kerry Strand (Hood College), Sam Marullo (Georgetown University), Nick Cutforth (University of Denver), Randy Stoecker (University of Toledo), and Patrick Donohue (Middlesex County College), represent the spectrum of public-private institutions and write out of the credibility of their own praxis; they provide an important contribution to the emerging literature on community-based research (CBR) by focusing on underlying principles, basic methodologies, strategies for implementation, helpful examples, and illustrative resources.

Faculty are the intended audience, though academic administrators also will find this book to be a helpful resource in understanding the principles and strategies of CBR and its role in enhancing student learning and assisting the institution as it strives to make a positive contribution to community involvement and social change. CBR provides a mechanism that can assist faculty in having their teaching linked to, and research useful for, positive community transformation.

This team of CBR practitioners begins with an outline of the history and foundational principles of CBR (chapter one). The authors delineate specific characteristics of successful community engagement, including strong community involvement, active participation in data collection and analysis, and the obtainment of direct benefits from the research work (chapter two).

Institutional benefits include developing strong community support, expanding student learning opportunities, and increasing the civic relevance of faculty research. This reciprocity of benefits is built on three interrelated CBR principles: open collaborative partnerships, the creation and dissemination of knowledge, and the development of positive social change in the community (chapters three and four).

CBR can enable faculty, students, and community members to engage in effective social change by identifying problems to be studied, locating available resources for response, and implementing a coordinated plan of action. Academic administrators play a significant role in what the authors identify as foundational components of collaborative relationships: assisting faculty and community partners in overcoming barriers to open communication, conducting well-organized meetings, practicing effective project management, and maintaining research budgets. CBR is not a quick response but is a clear, public demonstration that the college or university intends to make a long-term commitment to the community and its residents.

For CBR to be fully utilized as an effective educational tool in the production and dissemination of relevant and helpful knowledge, the authors believe academic institutions must create organizational structures to effectively mobilize limited institutional resources. Faculty can bring helpful theoretical knowledge and research methods to bear on community issues, be a vibrant source of a trained and trainable workforce (faculty and students at-large) for collecting and interpreting data, and demonstrate a serious commitment to community service.

Academic work accomplished through a community-based approach utilizes all of the conventional approaches to research; what makes it unique is its fundamental commitment to impoverished communities and groups (chapter five). Administrators tend to be apprehensive about faculty involvement in social change activities. Isolated, abstract research by faculty is generally viewed as "safe" but does not necessarily produce results that sufficiently respond to community needs. Academic institutions have social responsibility to serve their community through the pursuit of social action and, in fact, may be the only actors capable of encouraging and supporting work that will initiate significant social change. This book helps to articulate an approach to community involvement that lessens the risk of negative activism and increases the positive aspects of fulfilling the institution's responsibility for positive civic engagement.

CBR is also a teaching strategy that builds on and goes beyond experiential and service-learning approaches by focusing on the application of discipline-specific learning (chapter six). As a critical pedagogy, the roles of professor, student, and community resident are blurred and the location of learning shifts from the classroom to the community; everyone involved becomes teacher, learner, researcher, and neighbor. This type of academic work is challenging-CBR projects require careful management, call for an interdisciplinary approach, do not always fit with academic calendars, and may not accomplish course objectives (chapter seven).

Perhaps of greatest interest to academic administrators are chapters eight and nine, which provide insight into the development of CBR models that best fit institutional structures, help to expand faculty development, and serve to strengthen town-gown relations. The authors highlight three internal CBR structures, beginning with a single faculty person engaged in community partnerships. This individual work can evolve into a formal program that supports ongoing faculty and community partner relationships that, in turn, may lead to the development of an institutional CBR office or center.

Academic administrators can play a key role in helping faculty maintain strong, long-term collaborations by working to institutionalize CBR activities through the formation of an on-campus office or center that links faculty research interests and academic programs with specific community organizations and projects. It is the authors' belief that CBR can assist colleges and universities in accomplishing their institutional commitment to effective civic engagement through encouraging and enabling their faculty and students as well as providing service to nearby communities and the region (chapter ten).

Writing out of their own experience and practice of CBR work, the authors organize key ideas, principles, and examples with rhythm, even if it requires some repetition. The material is logically organized as the authors build and develop the applied principles of CBR strategies and approaches, supported by helpful charts, outlines, diagrams, examples, sample material, and a suggested reading list.

This book provides a clear understanding of the academic role CBR can have in applying faculty research expertise, improving student learning through hands-on experience, and strengthening collaborative partnerships that can bring reciprocal benefits to both the academy and the community. A challenge for academic administrators is to provide an institutional framework and resources whereby faculty engagement in CBR work can effectively and consistently occur.

For college and university administrators interested in and responsible for strengthening and expanding town-gown relations, this book can be a helpful resource and guide. CBR is an important strategy of civic engagement that enables academic work to fulfill the goal of colleges and universities to be intentionally involved in the vitality and social transformation of human communities and geographical regions. CBR becomes an academically credible way of responding to the criticism that colleges and universities have been unresponsive to their social obligation of civic involvement and contribution. CBR provides an approach for academic and community actors to collaborate in fulfilling Boyer's call for a relevant "scholarship of engagement" in which the community is the text and context for learning, service, and living.


Boyer, E. L. 1997. Ernest L. Boyer: Selected Speeches 1979-1995. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.