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at the core of MassINC’s mission is the belief that all citizens of Massachusetts should have the opportunity to pursue the American dream. And as we’ve written in this space before, a college education is fast becoming a prerequisite for living that dream. College graduates have a much better chance to earn the income needed to buy a house and raise a family, and they are more likely to participate in civic life and in our knowledge-based economy.

We are blessed that Massachusetts is home to a unique blend of two- and four-year public and private colleges and universities. Nowhere else in the world do we see such a density of institutions committed to research and innovation. In fact, higher education is a leading industry for Greater Boston, one half of the “eds and meds” economic future that many experts have cited, on the pages of CommonWealth and elsewhere, as key to our future growth. Increasingly, the state’s public and private universities are playing more of a strategic role in regional economic and workforce development, as well as in urban revitalization. This is happening despite former Northeastern University president Richard Freeland’s Considered Opinion, in this issue, that we lack a “comprehensive strategy to leverage all our academic institutions for the benefit of the Commonwealth.” We’ve been fortunate that so many higher ed institutions call Massachusetts home, but we’ve also been lucky that, despite years of what Freeland calls “complacency and neglect,” we have yet to reach a state of crisis.

What are some of the challenges facing higher education in Massachusetts? Certainly, as Freeland points out, we are losing ground to competitor regions and slipping further behind states such as Texas, California, New York, and North Carolina in state spending on research and general support for higher education. (To be sure, we’ve often noted that this is a difficult thing to measure. Massachusetts ranks 48th as measured by the percentage of the state budget dedicated to higher education, but because so many of our college students go to private schools, we rank near the median in spending per student in state colleges and universities.) Thus, as the Patrick administration takes a closer look at higher ed policy, it would be wise to take advantage of both public and private institutions and look for opportunities to coordinate efforts to ensure innovation, prosperity, and opportunity for the state and its citizens; to improve operational efficiency to cut costs; and to enact policies that leverage state dollars for reform and improvement.

One place to start might be in the state’s community colleges, and Michael Jonas’s cover story sheds some much-needed light on these institutions. It is indisputable that our community colleges have work to do in raising graduation rates. But what these rates measure is a lot more complicated than data on a page, and they should not overshadow the students who overcame great odds to get degrees.

The bottom line is that improvement is needed because the financial and emotional benefits of getting a degree are obvious. It is less clear how we make the governance and institutional reforms needed to graduate more students.

>> this is the first issue of CommonWealth published without the guiding hand of Bob Keough, who served as editor from early 2000 until this January, when he left for a senior post in state government. During his tenure here, Bob built on the legacy of our first editor, Dave Denison (who still appears in our pages as a regular contributor and wrote this issue’s Conversation), and expanded both the scope and the size of the magazine while staying true to our mission of covering “politics, ideas, and civic life” in a provocative but nonpartisan manner.

Over seven years, Bob set high standards and brought a constant sense of innovation to the magazine. He edited special issues of CommonWealth devoted entirely to education, health care, and growth and development; brought a clear-eyed perspective to major issues of the day in his Civic Sense column; and last year oversaw a major redesign of the magazine. Bob also greatly contributed to the magazine’s stature and influence by planning and moderating public events such as our Commonwealth Forums.

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Most important, Bob was a good friend and trusted colleague, and we miss his critical eye for the written word and sharp mind on the issues we care about. All of us at CW and MassINC wish him well in his new endeavor.

john schneider, acting publisher