Wonk & Roll: Required reading on higher ed

I’ve been a regular reader of the Washington Monthly since the 1980s and their annual college guide, out this week, has become one of my favorite issues.  Here’s why: it turns the college rankings system on its head by trying to measure how well colleges are contributing to the nation’s wellbeing.

Simply put, the rankings are across three dimensions—social mobility, research, and service—and measures various factors such as graduation rates, percentage of graduates who go on to get a Ph.D., and student participation in community service.  I’m not sure if that’s the best way to measure how well colleges and universities contribute to society.  But the issue confronts a problem that’s been hidden for too long—the poor record some colleges have graduating their students.  Paul Glastris, the editor-in-chief, says that we need to end giving “a free pass to schools that effectively rob students of a chance to earn the college degrees they need to enter the middle class.”  We at MassINC could not agree with him more. 

In the issue’s rankings of America’s best community colleges, none of the top 50 are in Massachusetts.  Six of the top ten are in either Minnesota (3) and North Carolina (3).  At #11 is the only New England community college on the list—Washington County Community College in Maine.  We’ve got some work to do.

This issue is worth a read, especially if you waiting to see in Massachusetts a higher education reform agenda with a greater sense of urgency and purpose (and/or like me you have a high school senior looking at colleges for next year).  While the feds begin cracking down on some of the for-profit colleges for manipulating the student aid system and leaving students degree-less, job-less, and broke, let’s not leave traditional campuses behind.  We ought to be expecting more than simply seeing “local state college” morph into “local state university.”  Commissioner Richard Freeland is rolling out the “The Vision Project”, a new agenda for public higher education, and that might be the framework we need for change.  We’ll see.

A personal note: As we all know, Saturday marked the 9th anniversary of 9/11.  I was in Dracut, MA that morning, near the home of John Ogonowski, the pilot of flight 11.  A true community leader, he was involved early on in the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project providing farm land—often rent free—to Lowell’s Cambodian community.  He was a man who made a real difference in the lives of so many new Americans, an inspiration to us all.

Wonk & Roll is regular series of posts by MassINC Executive Vice President John Schneider on policy topics of interest to the MassINC community.  Now let’s get to work.

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