A Clearer Vision for State Colleges

This weekend, when Governor Deval Patrick announced the recipients of $2.5 million in grants at 15 area public universities and colleges, he took a huge step forward in his effort to rethink the public university system in Massachusetts. In the past, state dollars have been allocated to schools based on enrollment, but through the new Vision Project created by Massachusetts Department of Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland, these grants are now being awarded to schools based on their efforts to increase graduation rates, improve career development efforts, or help close the achievement gap in minority students. (It’s kind of a Race to the Top for colleges.) I wrote about the Vision Project in my story about higher education in this month’s issue, and it’s a great example of how the colleges and universities are doing more to hold themselves accountable for student learning and success.

Among the projects that were awarded funding from the state was a program at Worcester State University that allows students to work as teacher’s aides in classrooms in Latino communities, and a boot camp at Quinsigamond Community College for students still struggling with basic math skills when they enter college. The five-member panel that reviewed the grant applications actually turned down proposals that asked for funding for technology and scientific research; instead, their focus was on finding innovative ideas that would fundamentally enhance learning in classrooms. And while $2.5 million isn’t a huge sum of money in the scope of higher learning — and I’d love to see more funds allocated to the Vision Project — it’s a promising first step.