Tuesday, September 14, 2010


2010 Springfield Technical Community College graduates celebrate at June 2 commencement exercises.

This week another report has been issued that confirms what most Americans know – that a college degree is becoming essential for a middle class job.  The latest study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce cites an increasing share of American jobs requiring at least some college education: “Between 1973 and 2008, the share of jobs in the U.S. economy that required post-secondary education increased from 28% to 59%. According to our projections, the future promises more of the same. The share of post-secondary jobs will increase from 59% to 63% nationally over the next decade. The share of post-secondary jobs will increase from 59% to 63% nationally over the next decade.”(http://www.nebhe.org/2010/09/10/more-than-2-million-job-vacancies-forecast-for-ne-by-2018-but-do-our-workers-have-what-it-takes-to-fill-them/)  

The authors of the study - Anthony P. Carnevale and Nicole Smith – argue that in the next ten years, high school graduates and high school dropouts “will find themselves largely left behind in the coming decade” for decent paying  jobs. They conclude that post-secondary education will become essential for entry into the middle class. 

Meanwhile, the cost of college is escalating – a vicious circle for those of modest means who must obtain a college education to enter the middle class but often do so with substantial college debt.  During the “Great Recession” as it has become known students are flocking into colleges, especially public colleges, using this time of high un-employment to earn a degree or retrain with additional post-secondary skills.  Our society should support them with higher levels of financial aid and additional funds for public colleges.  To do otherwise will increase the pain of the “Great Recession” for our youth who will either be locked out of college or leave with college loans that will take decades to pay off.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Professor John LaFrancis demonstrates the operation of a computer controlled milling machine at the Smith and Wesson Center at STCC.  Students are left to right David Santos, Daniel J. Miller, Shurwell C. Roach and Ryan T. Maheu.
US manufacturing is growing – one of the few stars of the US economy over the past six months. Releasing their August survey of hundreds of US companies, the Institute for Supply Management reported an increase over July of their manufacturing index from  55.5 in July to 56.3 in August.  Numbers above 50 indicates growth in the sector which accelerated according to the survey in August.

US manufacturing has changed dramatically over the past two decades with an infusion of capital equipment increasing productivity and product sophistication.  This has caused a change in the needed education level of factory workers.  More technically trained employees – usually at the community college level – are needed to run factory robots and computer controlled machinery.  The modern competitive American factory is not your father’s facility.  It is clean, well lit, highly efficient and filled with expensive, often made to order, machines.  Employees are valued for their knowledge and skill with opportunity for educational advancement. 

Community colleges around the country have responded to the demand for skilled factory employees by establishing new programs and revising existing ones.  At Springfield Technical Community College the Mechanical Engineering Technology trains students for jobs running Computer Numerically controlled machines (CNC) machines in the areas precision manufacturing industry.  Enrollment is full and graduates are snapped up by local companies.  While the program is rigorous requiring good mathematics skills and geometric ability, graduates look forward to well paying jobs and stable careers.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Map of Massachusetts showing the four Western Counties of Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden and Berkshire.  Source: Wikipedia

Massachusetts has a metropolitan area – Boston – that is economically dynamic while much of the rest of the state has not transitioned from an older New England economy.  This is the case in Western Massachusetts which consists of the four counties –Berkshire, Franklin, Hamden and Hampshire, occupying the Connecticut River Valley and the Berkshires Mountains.  While these four counties have suffered economically as manufacturing, especially in the metal industry, has declined, higher education has prospered.  The region boasts the following 19 public and private colleges and universities:

American International College
Amherst College,
Bay Path College
Berkshire Community College
Conway School of Landscape Design
Elms College
Greenfield Community College
Hampshire College
Holyoke Community College
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Mount Holyoke College
Simon's Rock College of Bard
Smith College
Springfield College
Springfield Technical Community College
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Western New England College
Westfield State University
Williams College

In a region of farms and small cities, these institutions collectively are a powerful economic force with over 12,000 full time and an additional 4,000 part time employees. Over 72,000 students are enrolled in colleges and universities in Western Massachusetts representing 9% of the total population of the region.  Finally, direct expenditures of these institutions was estimated to be $1.432 Billion, contributing to the vitality of the region. 

(All figures in this posting are from “Economic Impact of Higher Education Institutions in Western Massachusetts: Fact Sheet” published by New England Association of Schools and Colleges. The figures are for fiscal year 2007 and are undoubtedly somewhat higher today. I want to thank Nadia Alam of NEASC for producing this information.)  

A view of the main artery in Springfield - State Street - with Springfield Technical Community College campus in upper left of picture.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


U.S. colleges and universities have a profound effect on the economy by educating individuals for jobs and as a significant employer in its own right.  The importance of the latter in New England is documented in a recent research report by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the regional accrediting organization for public and private elementary, secondary and post-secondary institutions.  The report which can be found on the web at:
lists the economic impact of higher education institutions in New England as $118 Billion.  Although Massachusetts, a world-wide leader in higher education, contributes the majority of that amount - $81 Billion, the other New England states all have impact in the Billions of dollars.

There are many eye-popping statistics in the report that demonstrate the importance of higher education to the region’s economy.  To site one example, according to the report,
“There were more individuals employed at Massachusetts’ accredited higher education institutions in FY07 than there were lawyers, dentists, computer programmers, architects, social workers, photographers, psychiatrists, surgeons, pharmacists, police officers, real estate agents, and construction laborers in the state, combined.”

In this time of economic turmoil, higher education as an industry should be recognized and supported. 

Monday, August 16, 2010


While unsustainable consumer debt has helped bring the American economy to its knees, little attention has been given to the growing amount owed by college students.  A June statistics released by the Federal Reserve Bank has underlined the amount of student debt.  The total amount of student loans nationally- $830 Billion – now exceeds that of credit cards - $827 Billion.  (See the Wall Street Journal Blog http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2010/08/09/student-loan-debt-surpasses-credit-cards )

This generation of college students enters the workforce with a debt burden that will take years to repay.  And unlike credit card debt, student loans typically are not eliminated through bankruptcy. 

The long term consequences for college graduates (and those that do not finish college) are significant: less disposable income after starting work, more stress and pressure due to large debts and more difficulty in making large purchases such as homes.  Reducing student debt would have a beneficial effect on the housing market as young educated couples would be better credit risks for new homes.

What, however, can be done?  Keeping public colleges open and affordable is a key step.  States need to pay attention to their public college systems which provide excellent education at a reasonable cost to students.  In this light, the recent reductions to public colleges and universities by State Legislatures and Governors is troubling, compounding financial pressure on students. To reserve these trends, students need to become politically active in defending their interests: a chance for a college education at an affordable price.  

Friday, June 25, 2010


STCC Technology Park - home of the STCC Business Incubator

Springfield, Massachusetts is a post-industrial city that has seen its fortunes slip over the past two decades.  Once a hub of metal manufacturing, the City is one of the poorest in the Northeast.  A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston accessible at http://www.bos.frb.org/about/ar/ar2009/lessons-from-resurgent-cities.pdf compares the success of so-called resurgent cities with those still struggling economically.

STCC has for over twelve years has run a business incubator with the goal of nurturing start-ups that, when mature, will boost the local economy.  In an attempt to attract high-tech companies, the college is partnering with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the flagship public research institution in the State.  A description of that partnership that includes a UMass spinoff locating in the STCC incubator can be found in an article recently published by Business West at:

Both STCC and UMass/Amherst are convinced that this partnership will help grow Springfield’s economy and thereby move it into the category of a resurgent city.   

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Totaling $40 Billion a year, federal student aid led by Pell grants is by far the largest source of financial assistance to US college students.  State support which varies by state and usually is tied to federal definition of need is also a major contributor to a student’s ability to pay for college.  However, the federal process that requires the completion of the FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – is often intimidating.  In fact, surveys have shown that significant numbers of eligible college students, particularly at the nation’s community colleges, do not receive financial assistance because of the complicated forms and need for documentation. 

                            Rick Mortensen, STCC student, and Diana Rosado, financial aid staff

In an effort to provide additional information, a number of colleges have adopted a series of short videos produced by Financial Aid TV.  To view these videos at the STCC website go to: http://stcc.financialaidtv.com/

Other efforts to reach students include holding workshops on financial aid availability and processes, improving communication via electronic media and helping students learn about aid and scholarships through their academic advisors.  These initiatives are yield results at Springfield Technical Community College as the fraction of students receiving federal and state aid has jumped from 50% in the fall, 2008 semester to 59% in the spring 2010 term.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

(President Barack Obama greets the crowd at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., Tuesday, July 14, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)


Because Obama running for President frequently mentioned community colleges in his campaign speeches, there were high expectations among those in this public higher education sector from the new national administration. Now 15 months into his presidency, the results are decidedly mixed.

On July 14, 2009 Obama announced a plan to fund and improve community colleges nationwide. Called the American Graduation Initiative (AGI), Obama proposed spending to $12 Billion over ten years on community colleges with the goal, he said, “to help an additional 5 million Americans earn degrees and certificates in the next decade.”

Promising $1.2 Billion per year, the American Graduation Initiative support for community colleges was quite modest. With enrollment at community colleges at over 6 million and growing rapidly, the federal support would amount to less than $200 per student per year, money that would have been helpful to hard pressed colleges but not enough to significantly alter the educational landscape. Federal support did signify the recognition of the importance to the nation of community colleges and the prospect – long term – of increased attention.

While AGI rushed moved quickly through the House of Representatives, it stalled in the Senate, victim of the controversy over national health care legislation. Originally part of the student loan reform bill, it was dropped when that legislation passed as part of health care in March, 2010.

So give President Obama an A for raising the issue of national support for community colleges and Congress an F for not following his lead.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The Logo of the Federal Student Aid from the U.S. Department of Education

Federal student aid is changing to reflect the realities of the lives of low and moderate income college students.  New regulations allow students to use Pell grant funds to support summer course work.  Because they have to work, many public college students, the majority at community colleges around the nation, take less than a full course load during the fall and spring semesters.  Supporting summer studies would help these students graduate faster.

According to the financial aid office at Springfield Technical Community college, the following are federal eligibility requirements for this new summer aid:

  • Student must have a completed 2009-2010 FAFSA on file in the Financial Aid Office
  • Enroll in a minimum of 6 credits during summer
  • Student must be currently enrolled in a degree granting or certificate program
  • Not graduating at the end of Spring 2010
  • Student must be making Satisfactory Academic Progress and be in Good Academic Standing at the end of Spring 2010
  • If a student received Pell Grant funds during the Summer 2009 from another institution, her/his eligibility for Summer 2010 may be affected

Additional reforms already announced will further aid incoming low and moderate income students.  Effective in the summer of 2011 newly enrolled students will be able to access federal aid for summer course work.  This will not only allow incoming students to get a head start on college requirements, but also provide a funding mechanism to support bridge programs for students to make up deficiencies in English and mathematics prior to the beginning of the fall semester.
The old model of college – a fall and spring semester in which students live on campus and go to class full-time – is relevant, primarily, to a minority of Americans whose affluent parents can support their studies.   It is encouraging that the Obama administration is changing federal financial aid regulations to catch up with the reality of most American college students.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How Community Colleges help North Carolina to lure new companies and keep old ones

Bill Ingram, President of Durham Technical Community College

A strong partnership with the state’s 58 community colleges is a cornerstone of North Carolina’s remarkable economic success.  (www.ncccs.cc.nc.us/ for more information about the North Carolina system). The state supports company expansion by generous training programs delivered by local community colleges.  According to William Ingram, President of Durham Technical Community College, “North Carolina would rather subsidize industry by paying for employee training than give tax breaks.  If the company moves the first strategy leaves behind an educated workforce while the second strategy may provide no lasting benefit.”

Like most states, North Carolina has a system of workforce development (also called regional employment) boards supported by federal funds.  President Ingram described this system as not being very significant to local community colleges.  President of the North Carolina Community College System, Scott Ralls, emphasized that direct state funds were the key to economic progress in North Carolina. “Our community colleges have a tradition of supporting economic development and the customized job program helps make that happen”, stated Ralls.

The customized job program in North Carolina, run by the North Carolina Community College System, is designed to help “industries improve their productivity and profitability to assure their continued presence in North Carolina .”  Even in a recession year, North Carolina provided $12.5 Million in new funds for this program in 2009-2010.  Because the community college system is able to retain unexpended funds from previous years, almost $20 Million is now available for North Carolina’s community colleges for workforce education and training.

N.C. Community College System President Ralls spoke of the long-term value of using community colleges to support employee training for local companies.  “Over time, our community colleges develop relations with companies that are very helpful in times of economic stress.” For example, when a company is thinking about consolidating, the local community college president can call company officials to work to ensure that local jobs are retained.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Representative Sean Garballey announcing the formation of the public higher education caucus at the Massachusetts State House on March 8


Massachusetts known as an educational leader nationally, lags in support for public higher education.  An editorial in the Springfield, Massachusetts Republican (http://www.masslive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2010/03/editorial_massachusetts_state.html) sums up the condition of state support for the Commonwealth’s public colleges:
In the fiscal year that ended on June 30, Massachusetts was ranked 46th in per-capita appropriation for public higher education, according to recent statistics. Other statistics show that tuition and fees are 33 percent higher than the national average for four-year institutions and 49 percent for a two-year community college.”

The new public higher education caucus hopes to move Massachusetts closer to the funding support of other states.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


STCC Students at March 8 Rally for Public Higher Education at the State House in Boston:

Back Row: Angelina Cavallini, Daniel Murphy, Sheila Colon, Joseph Kakley, Jonathan Santos
Middle Row: Richard Calderon, Micki Betton, Rose Hill, Denise Moore
Front Row: Luis Gonzalez, Beverly Wiggins, Andrea Craddy

On March 8, a contingent of STCC students joined hundreds of others from public colleges across the Commonwealth to press for more funding for public higher education.  Organized by PHENOM, the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, demonstrators asked that Massachusetts "be average".  By that they meant that funding per capita in Massachusetts should reach the national median.  At present Massachusetts ranks 46th among the 50 states by this measure.

Speakers at the rally argued that public colleges which are witnessing dramatic increases in student enrollment require more rather than less money from the state government.  Even in a state like Massachusetts noted for its many private colleges, the Great Recession has altered the landscape of higher education.  Students who could once afford a private college are opting for public colleges.  Students who once would have gone to a four year college are choosing community colleges because of their low cost.

The demonstration was organized to coincide with budget season at the State Legislature with the House now considering next year's budget.  Governor Patrick has submitted a level-funded budget for public colleges for fiscal year 2011.  It remains to see how the Legislature will treat the public colleges.  

The March 8 rally on the Boston Commons opposite the State House.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cultural Landscape Report of the Springfield Armory Site

Springfield Technical Community College occupies with the Springfield Armory Museum a 55 acre national historic and cultural site. Founded by President George Washington in 1794 as the first national armory, the site is the only one in the nation that houses a college.

To management this asset the National Park Service has conducted a cultural landscape report that traces the history of this geographic area. The landscape report focuses on everything but the buildings – plants, animals, water resources, roads, fences – found on the site.

The report will be the basis for a joint management plan that will allow the college and federal government to protect and enhance the Springfield Armory National Historic Site. Both parties want to ensure that this plan will protect for future generations the beauty of the area as well as a record of its rich military and industrial history.

Historic Fence That Surrounds the 55 Acre Site

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Students in Professor Raschilla's English composition I class on Thursday, February 11, 2010

Professor Raschilla invited me to speak to his English composition one class.  While he asked me to give students ideas for persuasive essays, I also had an opportunity to listen to their comments and to explain to then broadly about the system of public higher education in Massachusetts.

This class was typical of those at STCC: it was a diverse mixture of ethnicities, and ages; almost all the students worked; most were in school to secure a good paying career; all seemed bright and serious about their education.

Students had a number of comments about the college: they wanted better parking (“Why doesn’t the college build a parking garage?”); they were concerned with rising college charges (Will STCC be affordable next year?); they suggested changes in the class schedule (Why can’t we take two evening courses on the same day?) 

To provide a context to respond to their comments, I explained how the college is governed and how it is funded.  I discussed the dilemma of public higher education – how the withdrawal of state support for its colleges has forced students to pay an ever increasing share of the costs of their education and required colleges to cut budgets. 

Finally, we talked about old and new ways of publishing written material.  Among the traditional media are newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, books; the new media include blogs (including this one), twitter, email, Facebook.  Each of these media generally has associated particular forms of writing.  The persuasive essay that they were required to write was one of those forms; social networks were another.  We agreed that understanding what the rules and constraints for each medium would help them in their writing.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


The STCC team at the Strategy Institute from left to right back row -Diane Ryzewicz, Veena Dhanker, Jessica Hill, Matt Gravel, Ira Rubenzahl; front-Arlene Rodriguez, Pat Tigue, Christine Tigue

Equity and Excellence were the themes of the February 2 Achieving the Dream Strategy Conference held in Charlotte, North Carolina. (For information about the national initiative go to achievingthedream.org/
Achieving the Dream colleges from 22 states, a team of eight STCC faculty, counselors and administrators heard speeches and presentations aimed at one goal - increasing students' success in college. Workshops topics included: reforming college mathematics, accelerating developmental education, closing the achievement gap of ethnic minority male students, deepening the use of evidence to inform decision making, partnering with high schools. (More information about our efforts can be found at http://www.stcc.edu/achievedream/
The conference gave us an opportunity to study best practices at our sister schools, to dialogue with colleagues, and to learn about national developments. At the conclusion of the conference the STCC team met to review our findings and determine recommendations to bring back to campus. Some of the key ideas we decided to pursue were:
1) To provide faculty and staff with information that will guide college improvements, strengthen data collection and analysis;
2) To help students orient to college, publish glossary of college terms;
3) To speed students through developmental courses, consider re-organizing writing, reading and basic mathematics;
4) To help students receive the mathematics education relevant to their careers, participate in the Carnegie Foundation led program to revise the college freshman mathematics curricula.
5) To bring Achieving the Dream initiatives to more students, redirect college resources;<
6) To reduce barriers to student success, challenge conventional wisdom about college policies and practices.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Victor Sanchez, president of the University of California Student Association, speaking at the PHENOM conference

This past Sunday, January 31st, I attended the kickoff at the Student Center at University of Massachusetts/ Amherst for the PHENOM campaign to reverse the decline in funding for public colleges in Massachusetts. The campaign which has the tagline “For a Great State of Mind” will have two phases. Phase one to take place this year is an educational effort to engage individuals who are running foroffice to pledge to make public higher education is Massachusetts “affordable for all”. Phase two will try to secure from the Legislature and Governor a long-term commitment for increased funding and lower student costs. More details are available at the PHENOM website: http://www.phenomonline.org/

How serious is the funding problem in Massachusetts? By far the most important measure is the cost of public higher education to students. Massachusetts public colleges are more expensive than others nationally: our four year colleges cost 33% more than the national average while our community colleges are 49% higher than peers across the country. (For details go to

http://chronicle.com/article/Massachusetts-Almanac-2009/48120/ )

Meanwhile PHENOM argues that Massachusetts simply uses fewer state resources to support its public institutions. A comparison of state efforts entitled “State Higher Education Finance FY 2008” published 2009 by State Higher Education Executive Officers shows Massachusetts near the bottom in the fraction of state expenditures devoted to public colleges. According to this report, 3.9% of Massachusetts revenues go to public higher education (FY 2006); the national average is 6.5% with only 4 states spending a smaller portion than Massachusetts.

PHENOM which stands for Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts is the first grassroots organization to address the needs of public higher education in the state. The organization hopes to unite public college students, faculty, staff, administrators, alums and parents – all of which have a stake in quality public higher education. With 29 institutions throughout the state and over 200 thousand students, united public colleges could be a potent force in the Commonwealth.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Map of Downtown Holyoke showing the Connecticut River and numerous canals.

I had the opportunity recently to be briefed about Holyoke, Massachusetts, as a member of a task force to leverage a planned green high performance computing center (GHPCC) to be located in this old industrial city. Yes, three major research universities – MIT, the University of Massachusetts and Boston University – have chosen Holyoke for this joint high tech venture. At our first task force meeting, the reasons for choosing Holyoke were explained: inexpensive electricity, green (non-carbon) electricity, excellent internet connectivity, available land and excellent superhighway and rail transportation access. (See www.innovateholyoke.com/about-the-project/ for more details).

The electricity is generated by Holyoke Gas and Electric, a city owned utility that uses water power from the Connecticut River to generate the majority of its electricity. Holyoke was originally developed in the 19th century as an industrial powerhouse with numerous factories run by water power from the Connecticut. How fitting that this same asset may attract a new industry – high speed computing - that may revitalize the City.

Furthermore, to my surprise, the computing center is slated to be built in the center of Holyoke, not on some former farmland at the City outskirts. But on further reflection, downtown Holyoke has an asset that is both extremely desirable and in short supply: waterfront property. The City is built on a bend in the Connecticut River and has numerous canals downtown that provide additional water frontage. And Holyoke was fortunate to have avoided the fate of many Connecticut River cities – Northampton, Springfield, Hartford, and New Haven – that had their frontage on the Connecticut severed by Interstate 91.

In many ways downtown Holyoke is a canvas that although once painted now is ready for a new picture. To see it, we should follow the advice of Massachusetts writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

A view of one of Holyoke's canals with industrial buildings taken in 1941 from Library of Congress Archives.