Powerful coalition of business, community groups rally at State House for community college reform

April 4, 2012

Boston – In an impressive show of support for the Patrick administration’s efforts to improve the Massachusetts community college system, dozens of members of the Coalition FOR Community Colleges: Putting Education to Work gathered in the Great Hall of the State House to show their support for reform plans.

"This is an unprecedented coalition that has come together in support of stronger community colleges," said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. "We have business groups representing hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts workers. They are joined by civic and community organizations which represent groups across the spectrum. And we join together because investing in community colleges, building on their successes, strengthening their mission and making the system easier for students and businesses to navigate have an impact on every community in Massachusetts."

In just two months, the Coalition FOR Community Colleges: Putting Education to Work has grown to 60 organizational members, and now includes every major business organization in the Commonwealth and a wide array of companies and business groups located throughout the state, along with dozens of organizations that serve youths and adults as they seek to move up the ladder of opportunity. They all believe that a strong community college system is a critical piece of the 21st century Massachusetts economy, and has the opportunity to better serve its students and Massachusetts businesses. Nearly every organization sent representatives to the event, after which members visited lawmakers to discuss the reasons behind their support of improvement efforts.

"We each come at this issue from our own perspectives, but we all agree on the best solutions," said Bonnie Biocchi of the Metrowest Chamber of Commerce. "Many businesses in the Coalition can say they have seen the benefits when they have worked with their local community college to address specific business needs. But we need to act more strategically to take that collaboration to the next level and be able to compete on the national and international level."

The Coalition supports a community college system that has a coherent, systemic mission under the Board of Higher Education and the Commissioner of Higher Education. The ideal model blends strategic planning, budgeting and oversight at the state level with operational control remaining at local campuses, where programs and curriculum must be tailored to local needs. Such a system would allow Massachusetts to be responsive to the workforce needs of a 21st century knowledge economy and to better compete with states that have more aligned systems and are more effectively meeting workforce needs. By creating a system that allows strategic alignment and planning across all 15 institutions, that highlights best practices and builds upon centers of excellence, and that tightens relationships with business and community stakeholders, the Commonwealth will get the benefit of strong local relationships and powerful statewide collaboration and focus. 

Coalition members also rebuffed the suggestions that a community college system with a more focused workforce development mission would limit opportunities for students.

"Businesses aren’t just looking for someone who can fill a specific position today. They want workers who are prepared to grow and change with them for the jobs of tomorrow," said Dan O’Connell, president of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership. "Community colleges can play a critical role in that, preparing students so that whatever their exit point is – certificate, degree, or transfer, they are ready for career success."

The Coalition also insists that Massachusetts can no longer tolerate a network of community colleges that is difficult for both students and employers to navigate, with individual community colleges structuring their programs in individual ways, and requirements and degree programs that are not readily comparable from one campus to the next.  Currently, students who try to transfer to other community colleges or state universities find no consistent path – but rather an ad hoc set of agreements among individual schools, credits that are not stackable and differences in degree programs even within the network of community colleges themselves.

And, finally, the Coalition reasonably demands that our community colleges – like their K-12 educational counterparts – be accountable and transparent, and be required to report on how their students are succeeding in attaining degrees and jobs. It also supports a more consistently and robust annual funding system, but one that is tied to a system of accountability. 

Business groups supporting the Coalition’s work are joined by a number of civic and social organizations, including some of the largest ethnic organizations in the state, that recognize the importance of community colleges to minority communities.

"Visit a community college campus anywhere in the state, and you will find a greater percentage of minority students than you see in the community at large. We wouldn’t have signed on to the Coalition if we thought it was an effort to limit the prospects of these thousands of students," said Darnell Williams of the Urban League. "Strengthened community colleges are a source of new opportunities, in a system that is easier for students to navigate and is better integrated with the rest of higher education and with employers across Massachusetts."

"At their best, community colleges are a gateway to future success, whether that success is driven by a certificate, an associates degree, or a transfer to a four-year school and beyond. But the system as it’s currently constructed isn’t doing that for enough people in the state," said Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson. "Too many drop out. Too many fall through the cracks. Too many leave with too much debt and without the skills they need to succeed as workers and citizens. We can and must change that."

The Coalition FOR Community Colleges: Putting Education to Work continues to grow – having quadrupled its membership in less than two months. The Coalition members represent thousands of businesses throughout Massachusetts, as well as a wide range of civic and community organizations.

"The Massachusetts Business Roundtable believes that a key element for the state's long term competitiveness is the alignment of a robust workforce development system with its economic development strategy," said JD Chesloff, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable. "Community colleges are uniquely positioned to play a leadership role, close the skills gap and strengthen the state's economy in the short and long term."

For more information on the Coalition FOR Community Colleges: Putting Education to Work , its members and background on the issues, please visit www.coalitionforcommunitycolleges.org.


Media contacts:
Mark Horan – 617-391-9669 – mhoran@rasky.com
Harry-Jacques Pierre – 617-391-9635 – hpierre@rasky.com
Mary Jo Meisner – 617-338-4286 – mjm@tbf.org

The Coalition FOR Community Colleges: Putting Education to Work is an independent statewide coalition of civic, community and business leaders who want to see community colleges live up to their potential for all students. Community colleges are uniquely positioned to be engines of workforce development, creating opportunities for thousands of Massachusetts students to build successful careers in the 21st-century knowledge economy.