Friday, December 2, 2011


The STCC year in review and holiday greeting has just become available.  To view it click Year in Photos and enjoy the show.

You'll see pictures of our students and campus events throughout 2011.  And let me wish everyone who visits this blog, a happy holiday and better 2012.

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Garvey  Hall on the campus of Springfield Technical Community
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Public Colleges Gain Favor in Parent Survey

Katrina Martynyuk filling out her free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) in the STCC financial aid office while Natalya Petrik looks on.

Not surprisingly in an annual survey of Massachusetts parents almost half indicated that they want their child to attend a public university or college – up from 30% in the 2007 survey.  The Fidelity Investment and Massachusetts Educational Finance Authority annual poll reflects the post great recession reality of higher education:  families have less money while the cost of higher education continues to increase. (More information from the survey is available through the August 23, 2011 Boston Globe at the link parent survey .)

In this environment, public colleges for most American families represent the affordable option to high tuition and high post-college debt.  Yet states have been reducing support for their public college systems and possible 
federal cut-backs in financial aid may make public higher education out of the reach of many.

This period of high unemployment, is an ideal time to encourage further education and preparation for skilled jobs.  Closing the doors of public higher education would be a  shortsighted policy that will negatively affect individuals and our common economic future.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Andy Curto of the Springfield Tech Community College acting as facilitor during a Great Ideas meeting.

In my July 12 posting, I outlined the way an idea system captures the creativity of a broad segment of the organization – those at the front lines who do most of the work. In this note, I want to focus on how idea systems affect employee morale.

In a college or university, there are really three groups of employees – staff, faculty and managers. The staff are those who work in the non-teaching offices including security, admissions, business office, registration, counseling, library, financial aid, information technology, marketing, human relations, grants and development, and facilities. Because of the central role of teaching and research, it is the faculty that receives the greatest recognition. Staff members thus may feel overlooked despite the importance of their roles.

Our idea system roll-out, however, focused on staff functions because they are repetitive and susceptible to refinement and, in part, because teaching and research tend to be individual pursuits. Employees involved with our idea system appreciate the interest in their work and, even more, they appreciate that their ideas were valued and implemented. Employees thus become engaged and empowered, taking ownership for their work and receiving respect for their contributions. College efficiency and effectiveness is raised along with employee morale, creating a feedback loop that leads to additional positive change.
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I have just made a modest gift to Princeton University with mixed emotions.  I was a scholarship student there in the 1960’s and received a great education.  So I felt I should give something back.  However, Princeton has the largest endowment per student of any institution – a whopping $1.9 million with a total endowment of about $16 Billion.  To get a sense of the size of these numbers, if the University earned 5% on its investments, it would garner $95,000 per student per year, almost twice the cost of attendance at this elite institution.
Nassau Hall the iconic and oldest building at Princeton University.  Source: Wikipedia

Princeton University and Springfield Technical Community College illustrate the poles of higher education in America.  Princeton is wealthy and it educates the wealthy (with some exceptions) and STCC is poor and educates those without power and privilege.  As different as the missions of the two institutions, are the resources.  A year at STCC costs about $4500 in tuition and fees; at Princeton it’s more like $45,000.  Yet both schools teach basic college courses: English, Spanish, psychology, mathematics, history, science.  In fact, I would argue that STCC provides a superior product because our students often enter with a weak academic background and must increase their skills markedly in order to graduate.  Princeton freshman, by contrast, start with excellent academic preparation.  Is it surprising that they do well in college?

Moreover, almost all of our students work full or part-time to support themselves through college.  Princeton students have the luxury of attending college full-time supported by their parents.  As I scholarship student at Princeton, I did work but only for ten hours per week.  And I was able to live on campus and take my meals there. 

So, for those who have graduated from prestigious private colleges, support your alma mater but consider giving to the public college or university in your area.  It will be good for your soul and good for our communities.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Prof. Alan Robinson of the Isenberg Shcool of Management, UMass/Amherst

Over the past year, our college has introduced an idea system – called Great Ideas @ STCC – that has the potential to transform our organization.  

Our experience has confirmed the principle that our consultant, Alan Robinson, has emphasized that 80% of the possible improvements in our organization are dependent on front line employees because most of the work of the organization is done by them.  They carry out the individual transactions of the college for example: registering students, assisting with financial aid, serving students in the library, accepting payment for classes.  Those college employees above the front lines who are usually part of “management” deal with rolled up data – total enrollment, costs of utilities, payroll and the like.   They do not witness the transactions between students who are the customer and the employees serving them.  These managers are not aware, therefore, of the myriad opportunities for improvement in the functioning of the organization. 

Long time front line employees often know of changes within their scope of work that would save resources and improve service to students.  They have not had a means of expressing and implementing those ideas.   That is the beauty of an idea system.  It harnesses the creativity of a large number of employees, those closest to the action.

The critical lesson learned is that we managers think we can make the organization more efficient by decisions based on aggregate data.  While that is important, that misses the majority of possibilities for improvement, those at the front line of the organization.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Raising Incomes and Reducing Inequities via Higher Education

Those of us working in community colleges have long assumed that higher education propels students of modest means into the middle class and reduces income inequality.  In short, affordable, accessible higher education grows the economy and strengthens our democracy.

Now a new report entitled “The Uneducated American” from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce provide the data that back up these understandings.  Demonstrated by the increasing pay gap between high school and college grads, this report shows that our economy suffers because insufficient numbers of US citizens are achieving college degrees.    If we increase the number of college grads, the authors argue, two things will happen: everyone's income (and the US economy) will go up and the income of HS grads will go up faster thus reducing income in-equality.  I encourage you to read the report at the link The Uneducated American .

To demonstrate that higher education is still of great value, even during the Great Recession, look at the chart below that shows unemployment by educational attainment. ( Chart from NY Times, 3/11/11).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Ideally, college presidents should be leaders, not just for their own institution, but for society at large.  At least one college president, Anthony Marx who is now leaving Amherst College, has fulfilled that role by opening the doors of his institution to applicants of modest means as documented in the NYTimes:
Top Colleges, Largely for the Elite By David Leonhardt .

Amherst under Marx is, unfortunately, the exception as most elite colleges and Universities fill their student body with the sons and daughters of the wealthy and the upper middle-class.  

Recent numbers are provided in a March 27, 2011 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education: Elite Colleges Fail to Gain More Students on Pell Grants .  The Chronicle found that "just under 15 percent of the undergradu­ates at the country's 50 wealthiest colleges received Pell Grants in 2008-9, the most recent year for which national data are available. That percentage hasn't changed much from 2004-5, around the time that elite institutions focused their attention on the issue. And Pell Grant students are still signifi­cantly less represented at the wealthiest colleges than they are at public and nonprofit four-year colleges nation­wide, where grant recipients accounted for roughly 26 percent of students in 2008-9. Individual colleges among the wealthiest have made gains in enrolling Pell Grant students, who generally come from families with annual incomes of less than $40,000. But others have lost ground."  

Where does that leave public colleges?  Some public Universities are among the elite - University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, University of Texas at Austin - but most public Universities are decidedly not.  Public colleges need to strive to hold down costs and attract a student body that mirrors the economic profile of their state.  This is a tall order as the publics face  increased pressure from state budget cuts.

Friday, May 20, 2011


So called middle skill jobs - those that require some college education or an associate degree - are in the news as policy makers and researchers look at the future of the American economy.  These jobs include positions such as network administrators, nurses, physical therapy assistants, computer numerical controlled (CNC) machine operators, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), respiratory therapists.  

While unemployment continues to plague the United States and young people, even those with college credentials, struggle to find jobs, the future may look very different as labor shortages may develop.  Why?  Because our population growth will slow, and the new economy will require more education.  Meanwhile this generation appears to be falling behind the college attainment of their parents just when more education is predicted to be necessary for a decent paying career.  For documentation that New England will suffer a shortage of labor in middle skills jobs see a recent report of the Federal Bank at the link:

Federal Reserve Brief on Middle Skill Jobs in New England

What should be done?  We are missing a golden opportunity to encourage additional post-secondary education.  Because of high unemployment many young adults have the time to go to college - especially community college.  But state and federal government are making it harder for them to attend by withdrawing support for public higher education forcing colleges to raise charges on students.  If we are to secure our economic future we should, as a society, invest in that future.  That means not scrimping on the college education of our youth.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


The picture above is the cover of the newly completed cultural landscape report by the National Park Service for the Springfield Armory, the national historic site that is the home of Springfield Technical Community College.  The purpose of a cultural landscape report is to record the exterior elements of a site - plantings, terrain, significant markers and monuments, water elements - and to use this document as the basis for managing the site.

Because the Armory site has a long history having been established as the first national armory by President George Washington in 1794, the site has gone through many changes which are thoroughly documented by the report.  For example, buildings on the site constructed by the US Army date from 1807 to the mid 20th century.  During this period the grounds changed with new plantings and landscape changes necessitated by new buildings.  However, as the report makes clear, the basic contours of the site remain true to that developed by US Army Lieutenant Colonel Roswell Lee, superintendent of the Armory from 1815 to 1833.

While the closing of the Armory by Secretary of Defense John McNamara in 1968 (see headlines below) created a campus for Springfield Technical Community College, the loss of the Armory produced an economic challenge for the Springfield and surrounding area.  The Armory had employed thousands of individuals who did research, development and production of small arms, especially rifles, for the US Army.  Moreover, the Armory supported the development of a precision machining industry up and down the Connecticut River Valley that supported companies like Smith and Wesson, Pratt and Whitney and Colt Arms.  The closing of the Armory was a great blow to the regional economy, one that is still being felt today.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


From my own experience, colleges and universities are often late adopters to new ways.  That is because these are fundamentally conservative institutions whose job is to transmit the wisdom of previous ages.  Additionally, most higher education institutions are non-profits operating outside of the competitive economy.

All that is now changing as many higher educational institutions are under tremendous financial pressure from shrinking state and federal budgets and exploding college debt of American students.  These institutions now seek ways to control costs while maintaining service to students.

Our college has taken a page from the industrial sector by instituting an idea system - called Great Ideas at STCC - designed to mobilize employees to suggest and implement improvements in how work is done. We are using as our mentor University of Massachusetts/Amherst Professor Alan Robinson co-author of the important book Ideas are Free.  We are as far as we know the only higher education institution in the United States implementing such a system.

Robinson claims and our experience shows that 80% of all the potential savings of time and money are located at the bottom of organization.  The genius of a well-designed idea system is that the intelligence and creativity of the majority of employees are listened to and acted upon.  The organization improves and with it employee morale.   This is, to be sure, a different approach to managing an organization but one with great opportunities.

To learn how we are doing at STCC, you can visit our Great Ideas webpage at