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
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
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:

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 )

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.