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Penn has been ranked as a number one “Best Neighbor” college in the country for its outreach to the West Philadelphia community.

The ranking comes as part of the national Savior of Our Cities: Survey of Best College and University Civic Partnership. The results were released yesterday with Penn and the University of Southern California sharing the top spot.

Drexel University was also recognized on the list in 10th place.

Evan Dobelle, president of Westfield State College, researched and compiled the list based on criteria including length of involvement with the community and real dollars invested. He presented it at the annual conference of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities.

Dobelle said Penn stood out as a pioneer in leading community partnerships.

“As Penn has done well, other colleges have learned that they can do well by doing good,” he said.

Dobelle published a similar list in 2006, which ranked Penn under USC at number two.

Penn’s new ranking resulted largely from the continuing efforts of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships, which engages academic resources with community needs in Philadelphia.

Ira Harkavy, associate vice president and director of the Netter Center, said the center’s main outreach is through Academically Based Community Service courses, which provide Penn students the opportunity to work with their professors in solving universal social problems.

“[The Center] can be mutually beneficial and not only make a substantive and real difference working with communities and schools, but also advance student learning [at Penn],” he said.

Over 1500 students participated in 59 ABCS courses at Penn during the 2008-2009 academic year, according to the Netter Center’s web site. These courses are across 21 of Penn’s departments and eight of its undergraduate and graduate schools.

Course topics for last year included a potential plan to open a new high school in West Philadelphia and a nursing clinical focused on nutrition.

Dobelle said the Netter Center and Penn’s importance to Philadelphia grew after various businesses moved out of the city.

“Colleges have really become the growth industry of cities, replacing manufacturing and financial services,” he said. “Universities have become indispensable assets to the future of the city.”

Dobelle said he hopes the future will yield a list of even more universities following Penn’s lead.

“My hope three years from now is that there are 100 more colleges and everyone is tied for number one,” he said.

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