Purpose-Driven Partnerships That Transform People and Places: Cal State LA’s Anchor Mission


  • Jose Gomez California State University, Los Angeles
  • Zuhey Espinoza California State University, Los Angeles
  • Raphael Sonenshein California State University, Los Angeles
  • Henry Fuhrmann California State University, Los Angeles




anchor institution, community engagement, university-community partnerships, upward mobility


California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA) has committed to becoming Los Angeles’ premier educational anchor institution, forging meaningful partnerships that contribute to the overall well-being of the region. Cal State LA ranks number one in the nation for the upward mobility of its students (Chetty, Friedman, Saez, Turner, & Yagan, 2017). The Democracy Collaborative (TDC) developed the Anchor Dashboard Learning Cohort to create a critical mass of colleges and universities committed to addressing economic, educational, and health disparities through engaged anchor mission strategies (Sladek, 2017). TDC identified five Thematic Anchor Dashboard Success Indicators as elements for establishing an engaged anchor mission mindset and structure. The Cal State LA example illustrates the importance of the themes and offers support for establishing field-wide best practices based on the principles outlined by TDC (Dubb, McKinley, & Howard, 2013; Sladek, 2017).

The university’s experience suggests that successful implementation of its engaged anchor mission strategy will benefit from a comprehensive approach. The course and manner of its strategy consists of the five TDC indicators: (1) leadership support at the university’s highest level; (2) incorporation of the anchor mission into the institution’s strategic plan, and university-wide identity or brand-building initiatives; (3) establishment of anchor mission committees and structures to coordinate work; (4) promotion and advancement of place-based cohesive narratives and expectations to embed an institutional anchor mission culture and build trust; and (5) development and support for anchor mission coordinating and support catalysts to manage anchor projects. These require two additional elements, added to the list: (6) implementing data collection protocols, including the measurement of local community student success after graduation using Mobility Report Cards (Chetty et al., 2017); and (7) continuous and faithful relationship building with external partners.

Urban and metropolitan public comprehensive universities, such as Cal State LA and many of CUMU’s member institutions have gained the experience and resources to serve and help transform struggling communities. CUMU and TDC’s Higher Education Anchor Mission Initiative collaboration can provide a coordinated structure for supporting institutions that have committed to an anchor mission strategy and for developing best practices and guidance to those considering an anchor mission.

Author Biographies

Jose Gomez, California State University, Los Angeles

5151 State University Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90032

Jose A. Gomez, Ph.D., is executive vice president and chief operating officer at Cal State LA. Gomez previously served as a senior advisor and executive in the offices of the leader of the California State Senate, California attorney general, and California state treasurer.

Zuhey Espinoza, California State University, Los Angeles

5151 State University Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90032

Zuhey Espinoza is the director of policy and government relations at Cal State LA. She is a doctoral student at UCLA. Espinoza previously served as a Coro Fellow and deputy with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Raphael Sonenshein, California State University, Los Angeles

Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs
California State University, Los Angeles
5151 State University Drive, GE 222
Los Angeles, CA 90032

Raphael J. Sonenshein, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA. Sonenshein is the author of three books on Los Angeles politics and governance. From 1997 to 1999, he served as executive director of the Los Angeles Appointed Charter Reform Commission.

Henry Fuhrmann, California State University, Los Angeles

5151 State University Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90032

Henry Fuhrmann is a Los Angeles-based writer and journalist. Fuhrmann previously served as an assistant managing editor at the Los Angeles Times.