Examining Massachusetts Community Colleges

Community Colleges are a popular topic these days — with two research reports (here and here) being issued in the past weeks.

The first came from the Boston Healthcare Careers Consortium. It was released with a host of ‘stakeholders’ taking credit.

This report has its share of consensus-speak but a few items jump off the page. First, the K-12 preparation level for many students is stunningly low — in Bunker Hill Community College’s entering 2009 class, 98 percent of students needed a remedial placement for at least one discipline (reading, English, and math) and over a third needed placements for all three.

More importantly, the paper digs into the lack of coordination across the community college system — different requirements for the same degree, different course number structures, and a cumbersome (if not unworkable) process for transferring credits.

The other research paper, issued by The Boston Foundation, notes (among several points) the same two issues, poor preparation and governance issues as key concerns. This marks the second time the Foundation has noted the need for “updating governance systems” at the community college level.

One would hope that we’ve reached the point where the facts are clear, and someone will step up and lead.

It’s time to strengthen the center of the system to standardize key pieces of the workforce development curriculum across all the schools. The Board of Higher Education has attempted to start this process with the Vision Project, which seeks to put some public accountability measures in place, but they don’t have a strong statutory or political base to work from.

With a standardized curriculum, that should make the transfer of credits across the system (and up to the state colleges) seamless. Right now, it’s a mess based on the judgment of individuals, not set criteria, as well as a complex series of interinstitution agreements. If the various state higher ed institutions don’t trust each other’s transfer credits, why should anyone else?

We spend several hundred million dollars every year in taxpayer funds on our community colleges (in addition to fee revenue and federal funds they receive). And now, more than ever, we need it to serve as the foundation for our workforce development efforts. The desire for each to operate as independent entities with needless variation is contrary to executing on this goal. We need leadership to force changes now.

Crossposted at Pioneer Institute’s blog.