Community College Funding to be Based upon Performance

Posted by Andre Mayer on Jul 12, 2013 3:14:00 PM

In a significant step towards making the Massachusetts public higher education more responsive to the workforce needs of employers, the Fiscal Year 2014 approved by the House and Senate and signed by Governor Deval Patrick today includes funding and language carrying forward reform of the state’s 15 community colleges.

Community collegesThe centerpiece is a $20 million performance-based funding component, allocated according to a new formula that measures each college's performance on a set of metrics that includes graduating students who have the skills needed by the key sectors of the Massachusetts economy. In addition, the budget restores $5 million to the Department of Higher Education for performance management initiatives at community colleges to promote higher completion rates, the adoption of common course numbering, and consolidation and coordination of administrative and procurement processes.

For Commissioner of Higher Education Richard Freeland, who persuaded the college presidents to support the initiative, the legislative action represents important progress towards realization of his vision, presented to AIM's Public Affairs Council last year, of a public higher education system that responds effectively to the Commonwealth's economic needs.

It is also a victory for the 18-month reform push of the Coalition FOR Community Colleges, in which AIM participates along with other business and civic organizations and number of employer members.

 "We remain more convinced than ever that our community colleges are a vital tool for the social and economic betterment of our Commonwealth, and now they have the funding, tools, and accountability measures to move forward," commented Mary Jo Meisner of The Boston Foundation, who coordinates the coalition.

AIM's view has been that improvements in funding strategy, more than adjustments to mission statements and governance structure, would drive needed change in the community college. We thank the Legislature and especially the conference committee, led by Ways & Means Chairmen Sen. Stephen Brewer and Rep. Brian Dempsey, for taking this important step.


Topics: Business Center, Education, Training

Teachers Hold Key to Improving Computer Skills in Massachusetts

Posted by Andre Mayer on Jun 12, 2013 4:12:00 PM

Massachusetts' economic future depends on computing expertise, yet our schools are not teaching students these vital skills. On Wednesday morning, the Massachusetts Legislative Tech Hub Caucus, co-chaired by Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland) and Representative Kathi-Anne Reinstein (D-Revere), heard from the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network (MassCAN), an industry-led coalition, about the dimensions of this problem, and its proposed solutions.

Computer ScienceSteve Vinter, Cambridge site manager for AIM-member Google, presented an overview of the issues. When we think of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), he pointed out, we should think first of computing, which will account for 71 percent of new STEM jobs. These jobs are of various kinds (hardware, software, IT services, network communications), are found in virtually every sector of the economy, and tend to pay well. Yet few high school students take the computer science Advanced Placement test, and college degrees awarded annually in the field fall far short of demand – unlike other subjects.

Massachusetts technology standards for public schools, Vinter noted, are the best in the country, but they address computer literacy, not computational thinking. MassCAN is pressing for statewide computing standards along with a curriculum that satisfies those standards; professional development programs to prepare teachers for teaching computing; and an informational campaign to make students, parents, and educators aware of the importance of computing.

We are already hearing objections. Resources and time are lacking, and we should blend computing into existing courses, says Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. Let's avoid a top-down mandate and try pilot programs, suggests former education secretary Paul Reville.

These arguments, it seems to me, are theoretical rather than practical. First, let's be clear about the costs.  In education, the main cost is always personnel; hardware and software are small expenses compared to the retraining of teachers to teach and use technology. Second, if the state is imposing new mandates that do not include computing, then we can be pretty sure that computing will fall by the wayside – and this is true not only in the schools themselves, but in teacher preparation as well.

In fact, this would seem to be an ideal time for concerted, decisive action. We are in a period of demographic transition for our teaching workforce, with an opportunity to bring in large numbers of computer-savvy teachers. Hiring practices in schools and districts, and curricular decisions at teacher-training institutions, are important.

But the state, which sets standards for teacher certification, has a primary role as well. If we delay on computing standards for k-12 students, we will pay a price – but if we do not act now on expectations for their future teachers, we will miss our best chance for change.

Topics: Computer Science, Business Center, Education

Employers Have Stake in Education, Training of Future Workers

Posted by Andre Mayer on May 22, 2013 10:59:00 AM

Having trouble finding qualified applicants for job openings?

Education and trainingIt's not just you – and it's going to get worse.

Eighty-one percent of Massachusetts jobs are currently classified as middle-skill or high-skill, and within this decade 70 percent will require postsecondary education. Yet only half of Massachusetts adults today have some postsecondary qualification, and the next generation (relying on guidance from peers, parents and teachers) does not fully understand the demands and opportunities of the world in which they will pursue their careers.

That was the sobering message at the Future Ready Summit at Worcester's DCU Center on Monday.

Future Ready Massachusetts is a public communication campaign promoting college and career programs that exist across the state. It is a collaborative project of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE), the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE) in partnership with Achieve Inc., a national nonprofit education reform organization.

Among the more than 500 attendees at the summit, there was only a scattering of business people.

Organizers of the Future Ready campaign say students must acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to complete education and training that will provide access to careers of choice. The campaign's key messages are:

  • Start Now: It's never too early (or too late) to begin planning.
  • Aim High: Students who challenge themselves through a rigorous course of study usually go the farthest.
  • Look Beyond: Look outside the classroom for learning opportunities that support career readiness.

The employer role falls largely under the third heading, but the others are also important. Although we often focus on high school, panelist Kathleen Finn of IBM pointed out, there are age-appropriate ways to get younger students to start thinking about careers. Finn also noted that while small companies do not have the resources of large ones like hers, they represent in aggregate a huge reservoir of talent in every community that can engage with schools and students locally.

The employer community has a vital stake in the success of education in Massachusetts. The small turnout of business people at the Worcester summit was hardly surprising – but the effort will fail without their substantial engagement at the local level.

Topics: Business Center, Education, Training

Harvard, MIT Online Venture Changes Educational Model

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Mar 15, 2013 11:40:00 AM

edX, the non-profit online venture of Harvard and MIT, now serves more than 800,000 students across dozens of countries. That’s more people than the combined alumni of the two universities have had through their history.

edXMore than 30,000 new students enroll to take free courses with edX every week, three times the entire enrollment of MIT.

Anant Agarwal, the President of edX, says the world of massive open online courses is expanding educational opportunity to every area of the globe. But the real revolution, he told the AIM Executive Forum this morning, is the data-driven improvements that online college courses are making to the quality of teaching.

“Our mission is to improve access to learning and improve the quality of learning,” said Agarwal, an MIT engineering professor who has run edX since Havard and MIT launched the company with a $60 million investment a year ago.

“We record every click, when people watch the videos, how long they watch them, how they do on the tests … It’s a kind of particle accelerator for education. We get data in hours that used to take 100 years to gather.”

edX is part of an exploding marketplace of online course platforms  that are rapidly remaking the traditional model of a college education. Agarwal told more than 150 business executives at this morning’s forum that there have been few innovations in the delivery of education since the advent of the blackboard in the 19th century.

“We have not been eating our own dog food,” he quipped.

edX students are able to register for online courses offered by faculty members at institutions such as Harvard, MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, Georgetown, Wellesley, the University of Texas and McGill University in Toronto. Students follow learning sequences that employ a combination of videos, text, discussion groups, virtual labs, instantly corrected tests, and links to free textbooks.

The platform even uses artificial intelligence to allow computers to grade essays.
Initial results indicate that approximately 5 percent of students who sign up for an edX course complete the session and earn a certificate. edX data shows that students who spent the largest amount of time doing exercises and problem sets were most likely to pass the courses.

Agarwal said edX eventually hopes to become financially self sustaining by licensing private versions of its courses to universities and school systems worldwide. He does not believe that edX will replace the experience of attending college, but acknowledges that institutions are struggling to determine how the proliferation of online courses fits into their own degree programs.

He said edX really boils down to placing the Socratic teaching method online.

“For the first time in decades,” he said, “people are paying attention to education.”

Topics: Education, AIM Executive Forum

Employer Needs Drive Online Higher Education Revolution

Posted by Andre Mayer on Feb 21, 2013 2:51:00 PM

Where will your company turn in 20 years for new college-educated hires, and courses for incumbent employees? Your local campus?

Agarawal edxMany experts put the odds below 50-50 that you will come anywhere near an ivy-covered hall for your educational needs.  Higher education is facing the same kind of technology-driven disruptive change that has overtaken other information-based industries such as newspapers, bookstores and video rental. The talk in the field revolves around alternative business models and innovative delivery systems, from new competitors, individual institutions, and consortia such as Cambridge-based edX.

Employers, in fact, are at the center of this change. The established higher education model has been unable to keep pace with employers’ programmatic needs, or to provide sufficient flexibility in terms of timing and location. It also tends to be pretty expensive. Today's career-oriented undergraduates, and especially older "nontraditional" students, are attuned to these issues.  It's hard to imagine a more "traditional" college student than Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel – yet "Johnny Football" is reportedly taking all his Texas A&M courses online this semester.

The headlines focus on elite private research universities going online, but they may actually be among the least affect by the disruption. The larger impact, one expert notes, will be on less prestigious institutions that "face disintermediation in their existing relationships among employers and students."  With the number of high school graduates dropping in Massachusetts and the northeast, these comprehensive campuses will be hard-pressed to fill their classrooms by attracting more "nontraditional" and graduate students.

That's what is so important about edX, which began with MIT and Harvard, now includes major state universities (UC-Berkeley, Texas), and is bringing in community colleges (Bunker Hill, Mass Bay).

And that's why AIM's March 15 Executive Forum with Anand Agarwal, President of edX, should be of interest to all employers. It's not just about the future of one of our state's key economic sectors and resources, or about a tradition-bound industry moving towards a new business model – it's about new opportunities for employers and employees in an increasingly competitive knowledge-based economy.

Register for the Executive Forum with Anant Agarwal of edX

Topics: Education, Technology, AIM Executive Forum

Freeland: Public Colleges, Universities Play Key Economic Role

Posted by Andre Mayer on Dec 5, 2012 1:01:00 PM

The Commonwealth’s public colleges and universities are “a neglected resource” with an economic role that is “far greater and far more important than has been true historically,” Richard Freeland, Commissioner of Higher Education, told the AIM Public Affairs Council last week.

Richard.FreelandFreeland pointed out that most Massachusetts high school graduates who go on to college enter the public system, as do large majorities of older students, minority students and veterans.

Without discounting independent institutions (he is a graduate of Amherst and former president of Northeastern) Freeland noted that the students at private schools are increasingly recruited nationally and internationally, and are less likely to pursue careers here after graduation. In a state where 70 percent of jobs will soon require some college education, the primary responsibility for maintaining the quality of the workforce falls to the public campuses.

This realization, he said, is the basis of the Board of Higher Education’s ongoing Vision Project:

“The ‘vision’ in the Vision Project is that Massachusetts needs, and should aspire to have, the best-educated workforce in the nation.” But while the project’s newly-released initial report, “Time to Lead: The Need for Excellence in Public Higher Education,” identified various ways in which the system is providing excellent service to the Commonwealth – for example, the rise in research activity at the University of Massachusetts – the bottom line is that “we’re nowhere near leadership”; there are “too many areas where Massachusetts is just pretty average.”

Further improvement is not all about money, he argued, but money is important. The Massachusetts public system ranks about 30th nationally in per-student funding, and state support has been eroding. 

“Is excellence in public higher education important? Is this an area in which we should be national leaders – as in k-12 education?” he asked.

“This issue needs to be higher on the state’s radar screen.” It should be an issue, particularly, for employers, he said, because they understand the stakes, and can influence the Legislature.

Asked if public higher education could be more efficient, Freeland replied that while individual campuses are generally lean, the system consists of “a relatively large number of relatively small institutions,” with “a culture built around autonomy and decentralization.” The greatest opportunity for savings, he said, is on the administrative side, although some programmatic sharing has been undertaken on the instructional side.

Topics: Business Center, Education, Economy

UMass President: University an Efficient Provider of Education

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 16, 2012 2:18:00 PM

The University of Massachusetts remains the most cost-effective producer of the educated work force needed to sustain the Bay State economy, UMass President Robert Caret said this morning.

CaretCaret told a crowd of business leaders at the AIM Executive Forum that the UMass system educates students at an annual cost of $23,000, versus $40,000 at private institutions within the commonwealth.  He said that 83 percent of the 15,000 or so students who graduate from UMass each year remain in the commonwealth to form a critical piece of the economy.

“You can’t become a whole lot more efficient than that,” said Caret, who took the top job at UMass in January 2011 after serving as president of Towson University in Maryland.

The president affirmed the university’s commitment to working with employers to promote research, development and commercialization of technologies that create jobs. He said the university has already created successful nanotechnology centers, is a partner in the new High Performance Green Technology Center in Holyoke, and expects to create additional initiatives in biotechnology and advanced manufacturing.

AIM and other business organizations this year supported a federal grant application made by UMass and several other states to be designated as one of 15 national Institutes of Advance Manufacturing. The initial application was unsuccessful, but Caret said UMass and its partners are confident of winning a grant in subsequent reviews.

Caret asked business leaders to support increased state funding for UMass, which he said has plummeted from 80 percent to 43 percent of the university budget. He pledged to freeze tuition levels for two years of the state were to raise its share of the budget to 50 percent.

“Only you can help us do that. Try to get your voice out there if you believe in public education,” he said.

Public institutions that once educated 25 percent of people who attended college now teach 70 percent of those students, Caret said, meaning that UMass has an important role to play that compliments the work of the many world-renowned private schools in the region.

Topics: Business Center, Education, University of Massachusetts

Massachusetts Takes Remarkable Look at Public Higher Education

Posted by Andre Mayer on Nov 7, 2012 2:45:00 PM

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.

EducationTo 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).

Topics: Business Center, Education, University of Massachusetts

State Education Commissioner Seeks Business Backing for Reform

Posted by Andre Mayer on Aug 8, 2012 3:46:00 PM

Chester.Mitchell“There is no more important time than now for the business community to keep the pressure on” for education reform, Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester told business executives at an informal briefing this morning.

The discussion was hosted by AIM and co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable.

 Chester said he is focused on four principal initiatives:

  • providing students with a course of study (curriculum and instruction, in educational terminology) that prepares them for college and careers;
  • personnel policy built around impact, not credentials;
  • attention to the lowest-performing schools and districts; and
  • better use of data and technology.

A key initiative is the statewide educator evaluation system now being implemented, which Chester characterized as “mostly about professional growth and development.” Some persistently low-performing teachers will be removed, he said, but “we can’t fire our way to excellence.” Changes in compensation policy are likely to follow, he added.

With regard to technology, he noted, “we are probably the only sector that has yet to leverage technology to deliver greater effectiveness and efficiency,” explaining that while K12 education is moving forward on data management and analysis, there has been less progress on incorporating technology into the instructional program. The instructional potential of technology is “huge,” he said, but many of the touted initiatives nationally are “strictly developmental.”

The Lawrence public schools, which have been taken over by the state, are in effect a demonstration site for new policies, the Commissioner said, and opposition there has been building, especially from the teachers union (AFT). “We are undertaking some reforms here that are going to be very uncomfortable for the status quo,” said Chester, leading to pressure to slow down and back off.

“I need counterweights to those voices,” the Commissioner said, noting that both support and “prodding” from the business community were helpful. “We need support at the local level, district level, but certainly globally as well,” added Deputy Commissioner Alan Ingram, who faced fierce opposition to his reform efforts as Superintendent in Springfield. 

“Continue to be bold,” AIM’s Chairman, Gary Magnuson of Citizens Bank, who serves on his town’s school committee, urged the Commissioner.  “We can be complacent in Duxbury, we can be complacent in Massachusetts, but I don’t think the entire system is sustainable” in a competitive global economy.

 Chester said that Bay State students actually score with the highest-achieving countries on standardized tests overall, but that results are uneven across communities and demographic groups.  Another aspect of sustainability also concerns him, he added: the ability of an education system used to annual increases in funding to adjust to an era of perennial resource constraints.

Topics: Issues, Education

Let Top Science, Engineering, Math Grads Work Here Now

Posted by Andre Mayer on Jul 15, 2012 1:10:00 PM

What happens when an international student graduates from a top American university with an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math, and receives a job offer from a U.S. company?

STEM WorkersShould the prospective employer have to wait, sometimes for years, while the graduate creeps through the immigrant visa bottleneck – and perhaps decides to take his or her skills elsewhere? Or could we streamline the system to allow these immensely valuable products of our higher education system stay here and go right to work?

AIM has joined with dozens of national, state and local employer associations, and employers who hire scientific and technical workers, to urge Congress to pass a bipartisan Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) visa bill this year. The proposed legislation, one version of which has been crafted by the House Judiciary Committee, would prioritize legal immigration status for those earning STEM degrees from American graduate schools – individuals who are already in the country on student visas, and who are already eligible for immigrant visas, but are currently caught in the visa backlog. (The employer’s obligation to verify that qualified American workers are not available would remain in place.)

This simple change could make a big difference for Massachusetts, where our universities attract the smartest, most ambitious graduate students from around the world, and our industries offer them exciting opportunities to put their skills to work.


Topics: Education

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