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University course promotes co-op development to meet community needs.

Rising unemployment, frozen credit markets and an epidemic of foreclosed properties have combined to create a perfect economic storm for many Americans. These conditions have resulted in an economic climate that merits greater exploration of the cooperative business model.

The cooperative movement has long helped average Americans in many ways, with periods of intense co-op development often corresponding to periods of difficult economic conditions. From marketing their crops and livestock via farmer co-ops to securing crucial financial services through credit unions and finding safe, affordable homes through housing co-ops, the solutions to life's challenges have often been found in the form of producer- and user-owned cooperatives.

Master's program focuses on co-ops

Universities can play a key role in exposing more people to the potential of cooperatives. A prime example is the School of Community Economic Development (SCED) at Southern New Hampshire University, in Manchester, N.H., which offers a Master's Degree program in community economic development.

This program integrates co-ops into a "tool bag" of options for future community developers. Students can earn an advanced certificate in cooperatives and credit unions, during which they learn how to create and sustain new coops both in the United States and abroad.

Founded in 1982 and with more than 2,500 graduates from over 100 countries, SCED is recognized both nationally and internationally as a leader in advancing the creation of sustainable communities. A variety of advanced degrees are offered at the main campus in New Hampshire and satellite campuses in Los Angeles, Tanzania and the Philippines.

Alumni build affordable housing, run community-development financial institutions, promote cooperatives and micro-enterprise programs and develop commercial projects and small businesses in low-income communities.

All students in the program are required to complete a project in Community Economic Development. Students with a focus on cooperative solutions are developing cooperatives and co-op policies.

Students address real-world needs with co-ops

A sampling of projects that students are engaged in reveals how adaptable co-ops are to meeting a variety of community needs. Tanya Gracie, from Canada, is currently working with the Canadian Cooperative Association and the Ontario Cooperative Association to assess how to recruit a new generation of cooperators, both for existing co-ops and for co-ops that specifically serve youth.

During an introductory course on co-ops, Dick Patterson asked how one could create meaningful ownership for members in limited-equity housing co-ops. He then went to work to supply an answer, developing a financial model that would pay patronage refunds to members in limited-equity housing co-ops.

Michael Bowie was employed at a Community Economic Development Center that was looking for ways to deal with a surge of empty homes in Worcester, Mass., a city that suffered more than 2,000 foreclosures during the past year. He felt that his hometown would benefit from a cooperative solution, but a prior effort to develop co-op housing there had failed. So his employer and others were quick to shrug off yet another proposed co-op.

Bowie felt this attitude made no sense. After all, when there is a rash of private business failures, few people will say that America's system of business is out-dated. So why, Bowie asked, do people reject co-op solutions just because one coop has failed?

He rolled up his sleeves and went to work, conducting a survey of young community activists, which revealed strong interest in developing co-op community housing. He is now working with a group of young people to acquire property for a new housing cooperative. He is also working to develop a small housing cooperative for the Stone Soup Artist Activist Collective and Community Resource Center.

Lisa Stolarski and Andi Shively, both from Pennsylvania, are trying to identify new ways to meet community needs with cooperatives. Shively is interning with SCED's Center for Cooperatives and Community Economic Development, where she is creating a Web-based resource site for cooperative developers. Stolarski, a consultant with the Keystone Development Center, is interning with the National Cooperative Business Association, where she is working to identify resources for supporting urban co-op development.

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The overall goal of the university program is to add to the community development "tool bag" students should be familiar with as they pursue careers in business and community development. Their communities are supplying the "case material" for their studies and are the beneficiaries of what they learn.

For more information about the school, visit: http://www.snhu.edu/ 388.asp.

Christina Clamp, Professor, School of Community Economic Development Southern New Hampshire University
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Title Annotation:Co-op Development Action
Author:Clamp, Christina
Publication:Rural Cooperatives
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Words:744
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