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 )

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.