Helping Higher Education

Massachusetts’ investments in community colleges wisely improve accessibility

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama declared that, in today’s world, “most young people will need some higher education.”  As he put it, “It’s a simple fact: The more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class.”  That beneficial education does not simply mean four-year institutions, though. In fact, a central element of Obama’s higher education agenda is vigorous investment in community colleges.

At the state level, Massachusetts has received attention for its commitment to similar goals. Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 recently announced a $27.4 million investment to expand Massasoit Community College’s capacity for students seeking degrees in the booming healthcare sector, and last week Obama praised Boston’s Bunker Hill Community College for its intensified commitment to help incoming students prepare for their freshman years. These efforts are a step in the right direction for Massachusetts to expand quality education and equip American workers for the modern world.


Community colleges play a distinct and critical role in providing skills in an increasingly knowledge-based economy. Currently, many tend to view a four-year bachelor’s degree as the only path to financial security. However, the Boston Foundation estimates that 38 percent of jobs in the 10-year period from 2006 through 2016 will require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree; by comparison, 39 percent will require a four-year degree. In fact, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, approximately 30 percent of Americans with associate’s degrees earn more than those with a bachelor’s. Any successful 21st-century approach to higher education must recognize this diversity of options and accordingly provide multiple routes for obtaining an excellent education, whether through a community college or a four-year university.

This is an issue on which Massachusetts still has much room to improve. As we have noted in the past, while Massachusetts leads in many high-paying fields, its achievement gap has also worsened, in part due to disparities in post-secondary opportunities. While the state houses many of the nation’s strongest liberal arts colleges and research universities, its community colleges have not kept pace. In Massachusetts, the cost of community college exceeds the national average; meanwhile, in-state graduation rates remain below average. That makes the state’s recent investments in community colleges a particularly welcome effort. In particular, the expansion of healthcare education means that more students can gain knowledge and skills that are highly applicable in the modern economy. This investment should help make well-paid, fulfilling livelihoods accessible to more people in the near future.

Of course, Massachusetts’ recent efforts, while encouraging, do not represent anything near a conclusive solution to the issue of equity in higher education. However, by strengthening the community college system in the long term, Massachusetts and the nation as a whole can help ensure that all residents have access to the lifelong benefits that quality higher education brings.


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