AN OPPORTUNE TIME FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGES
Once I got past the inflammatory cover headline (“College Try: Why Aren’t Mass. Community Colleges Making the Grade?” CW, Spring ’07), I was glad to see CommonWealth present such a thoughtful and balanced assessment of the challenges and the potential of our state’s community colleges.
This is a timely topic. Gov. Deval Patrick acknowledged as much in his proposal to make community college free for all Massachusetts residents. The governor’s proposal has merit: It is a good thing to signal the importance of higher education to high school students in the Commonwealth who may think that college is too expensive. And it is important to make an explicit link between public higher education (two- and four-year) and the state’s economic future. A public commitment to community colleges playing a key role in that economic future is long overdue.
However, the state can probably make more efficient investments. Scarce public resources should be targeted to those for whom cost is a serious obstacle, not to any resident who chooses a two-year college. Moreover, while the governor is sending a powerful signal about access to college in an era when at least two years of postsecondary learning are needed to secure a family-supporting wage, the more pressing challenge facing Massachusetts community colleges and their students is success in postsecondary education. Whatever we think of graduation rates as a measure of community college performance, too many students who want to earn a credential never reach their goal— and this is unacceptable. Access without success can be a hollow promise.
The future of Massachusetts is its human capital. Too often, we think this means the elite research institutions—public and private—that contribute so much to our state and its well-being. As CW so rightly points out, the state’s community colleges are a critical piece of the way forward. This might just be the time when both college and political leaders come together around this critical agenda.
Senior vice president
Jobs for the Future
MEETING THE NEED FOR FUTURE PUBLIC LEADERS
Richard Freeland’s Considered Opinion essay (“Turnaround Time”) offered a no-nonsense assessment of the state of coordination between the Commonwealth’s economic engine and the academic assets throughout metropolitan Boston, but his calculus missed an important element of managing any bold partnership over the long haul: growing the next generation of public leaders and managers needed by our nation’s federal, state, and local governments. Bureaucratic reformers may call for personnel cuts and contractor downsizing, but if we are to properly align academic institutions to support economic development ends, we should also look at educating the public stewards necessary for this dynamic, multiyear effort.
While not yet a crisis, the time for action is well before crisis conditions exist. I believe Freeland’s ideas must be expanded in a post-9/11 environment to reflect national service needs. Recently, two determined young men who served in Teach for America in rural Mississippi offered a bold vision for growing the public-sector workforce through the creation of a civilian equivalent of West Point, called the Public Service Academy.
The Public Service Academy would educate the professionals needed for the numerous functions of our federal, state, local and tribal governments. In exchange for a paid education, individuals would join public service for five years, providing needed expertise and passion—and perhaps remaining to help replace the 44 percent of government workers eligible to retire in the next five years.
Freeland identifies the need for a strategic plan to align diverse stakeholders’ efforts. More visionary leadership from the state’s university presidents can help. Our universities are on the front lines of developing new solutions to the world’s problems, from global warming to stem-cell research. So why not implement a better system for educating our best and brightest to ensure our nation’s critical infrastructure, essential services, and national security programs?
However, when it comes to building future generations of leaders, the best option the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration could come up with was to create a virtual academy, thus disparaging the “brick and mortar” concept of education. Everyone gets spam from various virtual universities, but would you trust them to train future diplomats and air traffic controllers? Does anyone think Congress should replace West Point with a series of video teleconferences and instant messages?
Second, governors, mayors, and university presidents should convene a summit to assess local university capacities and to align scholarship funding and service requirements in order to produce the types of graduates needed for the future workforce. They should set up a “strategic think tank” with a rotating pool of graduate school fellows in diverse fields to support the development of Freeland’s framework and other essential joint endeavors.
Third, hearings on the Public Service Academy concept should be held on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures. The hearings may lead to a state-level public service adaptation of the ROTC concept as a way of providing economies of scale through existing degree programs—with the added esprit de corps and unit cohesion coming from weekly training classes and hands-on summer training.
To increase economic opportunity for the Commonwealth, our elected leaders must ensure the effective management of the public trust. And college graduates deserve additional public service options in order to build businesses, lead diplomatically, protect our environment, teach our children, ensure the quality of health care for veterans and elderly, and protect our national security. It is our responsibility as leaders in our various professions to act now so there is a new generation of public servants ready to receive the torch when it is passed.
Task Force on Homeland Security
The Century Foundation
HOMEOWNERS PAY DEARLY IN SPRINGFIELD
Robert David Sullivan (“Money from Home,” Head Count) has it wrong. Springfield is not a city that does not “squeeze a lot from homeowners.” Residential property taxes in Springfield are 59 percent above the state average for cities in Massachusetts (according to a recent Northeastern University study), thanks to a Proposition 21/2 override that now contributes about $18 million extra to the city each year. Commercial property tax rates, according to the same study, are 44 percent above the state average for cities.
The idea that Springfield residents are somehow getting a free ride via local aid is a myth, not a fact.Paul Peter Nicolai
Nicolai Law Group
The State of the States feature in our Spring issue erroneously stated that Massachusetts ranked 39th in the number of municipal employees per 100,000 residents as of 2004. Massachusetts actually ranked 36th by that measure; it was 39th in the number of state employees per 100,000 residents.