Boston Foundation releases report on Greater Boston community colleges: Opportunity seen in an integrated higher education strategy despite current challenges in performance, support

February 26, 2007

Boston – A new report released by the Boston Foundation at a forum on February 27th highlights the important role strong community colleges can contribute to an effective workforce development strategy and to a higher education system that reflects the needs and realities of the new global economy. It also details areas in which community colleges in Massachusetts—with a particular focus on Greater Boston—lag behind national standards in terms of student performance and state support, and identifies best practices that could be used to strengthen these institutions.

“This report presents us with an important opportunity,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “It offers a roadmap to a community college system that is adequately supported and held to the highest professional standards, and it identifies how such a system can play a key role in preparing local residents to take full advantage of our world-class knowledge economy.” 

The report, titled Massachusetts Community Colleges: The Potential for Improving College Attainment , was written by Mary M. Lassen, Senior Fellow at the Boston Foundation and formerly President of the Women’s Union, and is available on the Foundation’s website at

“Today we suffer from a serious labor mismatch,” said Lassen. “Community colleges can serve as a logical bridge between where we are today and where we need to be, in terms of workforce development.” 

The report comes at a time when state agencies and area think tanks are increasing their scrutiny of the region’s community colleges. The Boston Foundation’s report places an emphasis on specific areas where the state lags the nation, including: 

  • State policies, which could be updated to promote a more integrated system for community colleges, connecting them both to k-12 education and to the state university system, using additional funding as an incentive for change;
  • Better collaboration between community colleges and workforce feeder systems to address the needs of the population for better skills and training and the needs of employers for of a well-trained and stable workforce;
  • Make use of proven practices from for-profit community colleges that serve a similar student population with higher graduation rates.

Massachusetts, Lassen noted, has approximately 75,000 jobs unfilled because we lack workers with adequate education and skills, while about 170,000 people in the state are unable to find jobs. Added to this, more than 150,000 people lack adequate English language skills and almost 750,000 state residents have no high school diploma or GED certificate. 

The report states that, at a time when the education and training services that community colleges traditionally provide are needed more than ever, Massachusetts community colleges have three-year graduation of 17.4 percent for full-time, first-time students, compared to a national average of 21.5 percent. 

At the same time, sharp limits in state funding have clearly had a negative effect on higher education, including community colleges. According to the report, Massachusetts had the largest decrease in public higher education funding in the country between 2001 and 2005 and today stands as the only state in the country that is spending less for public higher education than it did 10 years ago. One result of that trend: community college tuition and fees increased 40 percent between 2001 and 2005, making these institutions less affordable for students they are best designed to serve. 

A survey of community colleges that have demonstrated striking success both in terms of providing local residents with the credentials and education needed to earn family-sustaining wages and strengthening the pool of talent needed for a thriving economy includes the following best-practices: 

  • High-quality, centralized governance by state or region;
  • Career pathways to encourage students to continue; and
  • Better integration of the full education pipeline, from kindergarten through high school, to community colleges and the state public university system, in alignment with a workforce development pipeline.

The report compares the current standings of community colleges with public education in the Commonwealth in 1993, when Education Reform introduced systemic reforms, including new measurement systems to track student achievement and to identify underperforming schools. Today, the result of the reforms is a school system widely perceived as stronger and better able to serve the needs of young people—a model for fresh thinking about community colleges. 

The report includes five recommendations for leaders across sectors to strength area community colleges, including:

  • Strengthen performance accountability standards;
  • Create a better alignment between community colleges and feeder systems, such as community-based English language and Adult Basic Education programming;
  • Develop strategies that target specific populations, including students who attend community colleges but do not stay long enough to accrue meaningful credentials or skills;  
  • Foster greater collaboration between community colleges and K-12 school systems to encourage greater participation and more successful outcomes;
  • And replicate national best practices, as appropriate.

“Community colleges historically serve immigrants, older students and communities of color—precisely the residents who need to be brought into the workforce with the language skills and technical expertise they need to achieve careers that serve them and their families,” said Grogan. “This report points the way to a more fully integrated education pipeline and to a robust and competitive economy that can help the region continue to thrive. 


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation, with assets of over $830 million.  In 2005, the Foundation and its donors made more than $70 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of $71 million.  The Foundation is made up of some 900 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.  The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to address the community’s and region’s most pressing challenges.  For more information about the Boston Foundation, visit or call 617-338a