In 2010 Massachusetts Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland proposed, and the Board of Higher Education embraced, the Vision Project, a strategic plan to move our state’s public higher education system to a position of national leadership.
To achieve this goal – an ambitious one for a system long in the shadow of independent institutions locally and of public peers nationally – the plan calls for addressing seven key outcomes: college participation (percentage of high school graduates attending college), degree completion, student learning (measured by assessments), workforce alignment (meeting employers’ needs), preparing citizens, closing achievement gaps (among students of various backgrounds), and research (that drives economic development).
“Time to Lead: The Need for Excellence in Public Higher Education,” the first substantial report on the Vision Project, establishes a baseline comparison of the Massachusetts system with the rest of the nation, and lays out goals and strategies to move towards national leadership. This is a remarkable document in two respects. First, it is honest. For 12 key metrics assessing current status on the seven outcomes, it asks, “Is Massachusetts a national leader? - and answers with three “yeses” and nine “nos.” (The leading states are identified.)
Second, it is realistic about the breadth of change that will be required to attain leadership, and about the complexity of the various steps, some of which involve coordination not only within the system but also beyond it, with the public schools, employers, and others.
The effectiveness of our public system of higher education, measured by the number and quality of degrees conferred as well as by research activity, is a critical issue for Massachusetts employers. They need educated people: by 2018, 70 percent of jobs in Massachusetts will require some college, compared to 63 percent nationally. In fact, the future of our key industries depends upon having the world’s best-educated workforce. At a time when the enormous expansion of postsecondary education worldwide has flooded the global labor market with mediocre degrees, high-quality education is increasingly at a premium.
Those well-educated graduates must come, largely, from our public colleges and universities. In sharp contrast to a generation ago, two-thirds of Massachusetts high school graduates who go to college in-state are now in the public system. (That system educates most African-American and Latino students in the state, and the great majority of older undergraduates.) Nine out f ten graduates of the public system remain in Massachusetts after graduation.
This month, AIM offers its members two opportunities to learn about the progress of public higher education, its aspirations and the challenges it faces. On November 16, Robert Caret, President of the University of Massachusetts, will speak on “UMass and its Impact on the Innovation Economy” at an AIM Executive Forum in Waltham. On November 27,
Commissioner Richard Freeland will meet with AIM’s Public Affairs Council at our Boston offices to discuss the Vision Project and the “Time to Lead” report (call Julie Fazio or Brian Gilmore at 617-262-1180).