Monday, June 29, 2009

The Natural History of Springfield Technical Community College

Unique among colleges in the United States, STCC is located on the former Springfield Armory - a national historic site that is also a national monument. Our 55 acre campus that we share with the National Park Service is constructed around a large green filled a surprising amount of wild-life. Of particular interest to students and visitors are the raptors, two of which are shown here. These birds seem to enjoy the quiet of the campus as well as the opportunity to feast on some of our many squirrels.

The college also has a large collection of beautiful trees including the following species: maidenhair (gingo biloba), American Elm, White Mulberry, Black Walnut, Sugar Maple, Horse Chestnut, European Beech, Pin Oak, Silver Maple, Northern Red Oak, Eastern Red Cedar, Bradford Pear, Dawn Redwood, Japanese Zelkova, Sargent Crabapple, Sourwood, River Birch, Paper Birch, and Scarlet Oak. This is not complete although such a list does exist thanks to a recent survey by the Olmstead Center for Landscape Preservation.

Raptors on campus

A Barred Owl in the Dawn Redwood on the
campus green (Sharon Conte photograph).

A redtail Hawk on a fire-escape of Building 16
Picture courtesy of Ted Wright

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Community Colleges as a Path to Social Mobility

This entry is about social mobility, the ability of Americans to climb the social and economic ladder. I have used statistics to illustrate the key points because this topic is about numbers – how much Americans earn and the changes in how much they earn. But the basic point that I want to make is that for individuals, a college is essential for a decent paying job and for most Americans of modest means, community colleges are the entry point for higher education.

From Horatio Alger to Barack Obama the opportunity and expectation of doing better economically than one’s parents is a foundation of our society. However, recent data shows that the ability of the average American to improve his or her lot has lessened over previous generations. The trend in America is less mobility and more income inequality. According to the May 14, 2009 New York Times article by David Leonhardt, the United States no longer has greater income mobility than many European countries. We now have roughly the same mobility as Britain but Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark surpass us. What this means is that in those latter countries families on average climb out of poverty faster than in the United States.

Additionally, income inequality even before the current recession has increased dramatically: for example the US Congressional Budget Office found that the real after-tax income of the wealthiest Americans – those in the top 1 per cent – rose by 176 per cent from 1979 to 2004. Meanwhile those in the poorest 20 percent of the population saw their income go up just 9 per cent in that same 25 year period.

One tried and true way to increase social mobility is through education. And today, that means college as most decent paying jobs require at least some post-secondary education.

In our economy, the value of a high school education has stagnated while that of a college education has grown. The figure that is most often cited is the disparity between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree. According to the US census, in 2006 Adults age 18 and older with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $51,554 in 2004, while those with a high school diploma earned $28,645.

The point of entry for most Americans of modest means is public colleges and especially the community colleges. In Massachusetts, for example, last fall 79,000 undergraduates attended the University of Massachusetts and the state colleges and an additional 79,000 at the Commonwealth’s fifteen community colleges. These figures show that in the Commonwealth, community colleges serve half of all undergraduates. But as might be expected those who are first generation in college and ethnic minorities use community colleges as their point of entry: in Massachusetts 62% of all ethnic minority students start at our community colleges.

So, affordable and high quality education is essential for individuals and for our society and public higher education is more important than ever. This is another important reason to celebrate public higher education.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Introduction to What's Right with Public Higher Education

My name is Ira Rubenzahl and I am President of Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) in Springfield, Massachusetts. STCC serving over 6000 credit students each semester is one of fifteen public community colleges in Massachusetts. Although technical is in our name we have, over the years, added new programs in engineering transfer, computer science, business, nursing, health and liberal arts. In fact, liberal arts which leads to transfer to a baccalaureate degree institution is now our largest major.
(For more about STCC, please visit our website at

As the title indicates, the purpose of this blog is celebrate what is right about our college, public higher education in Massachusetts and public higher education nationally. In this era of instant news that highlights all the tragedies of the world, it’s especially important to remind ourselves of what is working in our society. And public higher education is working by giving opportunity for undergraduate education in Massachusetts to one hundred eighty thousand credit students (180,000), by educating our citizens for the jobs of the future, and for providing access to those of modest means including the growing Latino and African-American population. Moreover, public higher education does all this effectively squeezing out efficiencies from limited state support.

To put a face on public higher education, let me introduce you to Madeline Lopez, 27, a single parent of eight-year-old Destiny. She just graduated from Springfield Technical Community College in Liberal Arts Transfer, and next fall will be entering Mount Holyoke College. Madeline will be studying pre-med, on track to become a doctor, and is a strong role model for her daughter.

Madeline is representative of her fellow community college students. They are varied in age, ethnic background, and country of origin. Often, as Madeline, they are coming from a low-income situation, and are the first generation in their family to go to college. They often work full time, as Madeline does, and may be supporting a family.

Madeline is grateful for the support and encouragement of her teachers and counselors at STCC. This was her second try at college, and she not only got back on course educationally, she achieved a perfect 4.0 average for her final two semesters.

Madeline says, “Education is number one –- it’s the key to everything.” And that’s what she’s teaching Destiny.