Massachusetts lawmakers and education officials have proven time and again that they will turn the world upside to give a competitive edge to public school students in grades K-12. By comparison, a public college student could be drowning and expect nothing from the state but another faceful of water.
“Time to Lead,’’ a recent report on the need for excellence in public higher education, puts a sharp focus on the problem. The strong use of vibrant color and thoughtful design elements jumps out immediately at the reader. As government documents go, it’s practically gorgeous. But it’s not so pretty after reading the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s analysis of the state’s 29 public university campuses and community colleges.
Is Massachusetts a national leader in the college completion rates of its public higher ed students? No. Or a leader in aligning public degree programs with future workforce needs in health care, business, finance, science and technology? Nope. Does the state distinguish itself in terms of the pass rates of public higher ed students on national licensure exams? No, again. Or in reducing disparities in the college-going rates between whites and minorities? You get the picture.
The state’s public colleges are overshadowed by world class private universities whose students come from near and far to pursue their studies and prestigious “externships’’ across the globe. The students at Framingham, Westfield, Bridgewater, Salem, and other state universities may not be first in line for conservation experiences in Africa or public health research projects in Asia. But somebody has to stay here and do the day-to-day work of the state.