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Reorganizing Community Colleges Holds Key to Massachusetts Economy

Posted on January 24, 2012

The principal new initiative in Governor Deval Patrick’s State of the Commonwealth address yesterday was a call to reorganize and reorient the community college system with a centralized administrative structure and an emphasis on workforce development. AIM applauds the governor for this focus on institutions that must play a central part in meeting the employment challenge before us today. 

Community CollegeThere are 240,000 unemployed people in Massachusetts, of whom 100,000 have been out of work for a year or more. This situation is disastrous for households and individuals, who face immediate crisis and perhaps permanently narrowed opportunities.

It is also a serious threat to our state’s most important economic asset – its highly skilled workforce.  Many who once possessed world-class skills are seeing those skills erode through disuse or (more likely) because employers have retooled and improved processes since they last worked.

Young people are unable to get that first good job that introduces them to the modern workplace and builds the practical skills for a long career.  Employers, AIM surveys show, are hiring slowly and carefully, bringing on only those who can be productive from day one.

To be blunt: Everyone without a job in Massachusetts today is likely to need more education, more training, directly relevant to employment opportunities, before they find one.

As a statewide organization, AIM has long been frustrated by the unevenness of the community college system. Each of the 15 colleges (some with multiple campuses) has strengths, but we cannot tell our members that they can turn to their own local community college for any particular program or service.  Though we value responsiveness to local needs and conditions, we are confident that the colleges can continue to respond locally within a more uniform system that will enhance their effectiveness as the first recourse for those seeking to improve their career prospects, and for employers seeking well-prepared employees.

The governor plans to move his initiative through the Fiscal Year 2013 state budget process. This is appropriate – whatever administrative structure is in place, whatever mission statement is in print, it is the flow of dollars and the incentives attached to them that will drive change in the system. The Legislature, which created local control a generation ago, and which has tended to favor institutional line-item budgeting, must recognize the need for a new approach.