Purpose - In an era of increased public accountability, higher education institutions are expected to make greater contributions to local and regional economic development. First, this essay aims to provide a conceptual overview of the conventional approaches to economic development employed by research universities and community colleges. Second, a proposition for a novel approach to economic development that centers on direct collaboration between research universities and community colleges is introduced. Method/approach - The first section of the essay relies on a critical overview of the scholarly literature that addresses the contributions of research universities and community colleges to local and regional economic development initiatives. The critique draws attention to the counter-productivity of institutional focus on national and global trends and dependency on existing business and industry. The second section includes a proposition for an alternate higher education vision for economic development that builds on the strengths and accounts for the weaknesses of current models as identified in the literature review. Practical implications - The chapter introduces an alternate higher education vision for higher education that will be valuable to scholars and institutional leaders interested in examining and enhancing the capacities of research universities and community college to contribute to the vibrancy of local and regional economies. Originality/value of paper - The primary contributions of the chapter are the overview of the higher education literature specific to local and regional economic development and the proposal of a novel economic development vision for higher education that involves institutional collaboration and local and regional positioning and strengthening.