The community college system in Massachusetts received a “double whammy” this month, with two different reports citing similar problems with the state’s schools. The first report was released by the Commonwealth Corporation and the second, released just a few days later, was completed by the Boston Foundation. Both reports found the statewide community college system to be lacking in terms of preparing Massachusetts residents for industries in demand throughout the state. The good news is that the reports also issued recommendations to make community colleges a better deal for state students.
The Commonwealth Corporation Report
The primary concern of the Commonwealth Corporation report, titled “Critical Collaboration,” was the fact that Massachusetts community colleges are not properly aligning their training programs with the specific needs of the healthcare industry, according to a report at Sentinel and Enterprise. Currently, healthcare is the number one industry throughout the Boston area, accounting for 19 percent of all of the jobs in the city. However, while healthcare jobs are abundant in Massachusetts, both students and employers are finding the community college network increasingly difficult to navigate for the purpose of preparing students for employment and providing employers with adequately trained healthcare workers.
According to the report, community colleges are not creating important standards that ensure sufficient academic performance from students. Despite the fact that more students than ever are graduating from community colleges in the state, those with degrees are not properly matched to the workforce needs of the region. The report calls for better communication and cooperation between schools and employers to create an optimal training system for those in community colleges who want to pursue a healthcare career after graduation.
Debate Over Results of the Study
Not everyone agrees with the Commonwealth Corporation’s assessment of the state of Massachusetts community colleges today. Daniel Asquino, president of Mount Wachusett Community College, disputed a number of the report’s findings, stating that his school takes care to match student training with available career options.
“When a student is admitted or comes through our admissions office and they know what they want to do, we help them as best we can,” Asquino told the Sentinel and Enterprise. “We do all the testing. We do a mapping for them to show how they can get to where they need to be. We’ll provide them with advice.”
Mount Wachusett did not participate in the Commonwealth Corporation study, nor did another Massachusetts school, Middlesex Community College. The president of Middlesex, Carole Cowan, told the Sentinel and Enterprise that her college has increased the number of healthcare programs available, but still has some work to do in the area of nursing.
“It’s the most high-cost program available,” Cowan said. “There is difficulty getting faculty to teach in these areas. They have to be master’s-degree prepared nursing instructors. The student-teacher ratio is 10 to one.”
Recommendations by the Boston Foundation
Like the Commonwealth Corporation report, the Boston Foundation found similar problems among Massachusetts community colleges in regards to relevant training programs. According to a report at Boston.com, the community college system would benefit from a centralized system of governance that would refocus the mission of higher education in the state on workforce development and academic performance. The Boston Foundation’s findings were the result of a year-long study that looked at a variety of factors that lead to low graduation rates and inconsistent programming throughout the state’s schools.
According to the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Foundation made the following recommendations to bring state community colleges back up to par:
- Create stronger centralized governance by enhancing the roles of the Board of Higher Education and the Commissioner of Higher Education to oversee the entire community college system
- Create a plan that brings employers and the economic development community into partnership with local community colleges to ensure students are better prepared for the workforce after graduation
- Create defined performance metrics for community colleges that would be directly tied to school funding
- Clarify the definition of community college and its role in meeting the needs of the Massachusetts workforce now and in the future
- Consolidate school funding into a single line item that would be directly overseen by the Commissioner of Higher Education
- Launch a community college coalition
With these recommendations in mind, many of the problems associated with the Massachusetts community college system that the Boston Foundation refer to in their report as “disjointed” and “inflexible” would be resolved, according to a report at WBUR. The news station reports that more than 200,000 Massachusetts residents are currently attending community college in the state, so improvements to the system would be widespread indeed. Those who successfully graduate from a community college may see their salaries double after completing their degree program – if the program is in line with the current needs of the state’s workforce.
“The ticket to the middle class is industry-recognized post-secondary credentialing,” Julian Alssid, a member of the Workforce Strategy Center and researcher for the report, told WBUR. “So what’s needed now is community colleges that can respond to that demand and turn on a dime. So it’s an emerging need and it’s [needed] now more than ever.”
However, the changes needed at community colleges are large and sweeping, and it will take major reform across the state to make it happen.
“Public higher education has never been the priority in Massachusetts that it has been in other states, but it must be,” Boston Foundation President Paul Grogan told WBUR.
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