Fall 2005 CONNECTION: 50 Years of New England Higher Education and Economic Development

BOSTON— The Fall 2005 issue of Connection: The Journal of the New England Board of Higher Education marks NEBHE’s 50th anniversary with an exclusive interview with historian David Halberstam and a major timeline tracing half a century of events in New England education and economic and civic life.

In addition, former University of Maine System Chancellor Robert Woodbury warns of increasing stratification in higher education—and outlines strategies to reverse the trend. A variety of writers and thinkers including syndicated columnist Neal Peirce, education technology gurus Seymour Papert and Chris Dede and Yale child psychiatrist James Comer offer exclusive reflections on where the region has been and where it’s going.

Connection is the journal of the nonprofit New England Board of Higher Education—and America’s only regional journal on higher education and the economy.

Among articles in the Summer 2005 Connection:

The Fifties, Fifty Years LaterConnection interviews Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David Halberstam on half a century of social change and the historian’s childhood days in Winsted, Conn. Asked about the transforming power of the G.I. Bill, Halberstam notes: “There was this great breakthrough in possibility as the government became, in effect, a sponsor of higher education. Small normal schools became universities. New colleges were built. We had a sense of a great force gathering—an America which was infinitely more democratic in its educational possibilities and, not surprisingly, infinitely more dynamic economically. … But in retrospect, it was narrower than we thought. We perceived ourselves in the ‘50s as a white society, and the breakthrough was mostly limited to people who were descendents of Italian-Americans, Eastern European Americans, children of Jewish immigrants.”

Comparing today with the turbulent 1960s, Halberstam says: “The economy was so formidable and energized that there was a feeling you could protest now and worry about getting a job later. By contrast, these days, everyone worries about getting into the right college and then the right business school or law school and then finding the right job. The pressure on the ablest kids to get a law school or business school degree is very great. And as that happens, your levels of personal freedom shrink. If you’re $150,000 in debt, your freedom to maneuver is narrowed.”

Six States, One Destiny • New England faces a range of critical challenges including very slow job growth, unaffordable housing and waning political power, according to William Mass, director of the New England Initiative at the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Center for Industrial Competitiveness, and David C. Soule, senior research associate center and associate director of Northeastern University’s Center for Urban and Regional Policy. “Other regions of the nation and the world challenge our strengths in innovation and creative capacity,” the authors note. “At the same time, our demography is changing. We are losing 20- to 34-year-olds and seeing a growing disparity in household incomes in every state. Some folks are doing quite well; others are struggling. Some of our local governments offer the purest form of democracy in the world—the open town meeting—but reliance on local property tax creates pressure for growth to pay for local services.”

Hardening Class Lines • Merit-based student aid and early admissions are among a set of increasingly common college marketing strategies that favor wealthier students and contribute to social stratification in higher education, according to Robert L. Woodbury. But the former University of Maine System chancellor says the class division can be reversed. Among Woodbury’s prescriptions: stop admitting students to college on the basis of “legacy” and athletic prowess; aggressively target less advantaged school systems to identify talented students early on; re-examine the SAT as an admissions requirement; and stop playing the U.S. News college ratings game until student diversity—by family income, race and ethnicity, even a student’s age and employment status—becomes part of the methodology.

Coming Together • Between 1993 and 2003, New England colleges and universities increased African-American enrollment by 31 percent, Latino enrollment by 51 percent and Native American enrollment by 21 percent. But educational inequities persist due in part to de facto school segregation. Blenda J. Wilson, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Foundation, explains how 50 years of school segregation and desegregation continue to shape New England.

Visions: Reflections on the Past, Predictions for the FutureConnection marks NEBHE’s 50th anniversary year by inviting a small group of visionary commentators to provide short “statements” on the future of New England’s economic and civic development, tomorrow’s technologies and the changing shape of higher education.

  • Syndicated columnist Neal Peirce and his Citistates Group colleague Curtis Johnson ask, where are the “New NEBHEs” to address pressing New England problems on issues from energy to health care.
  • American Demographics magazine founder Peter Francese warns that New England colleges are pricing themselves out of the market.
  • New England Council President James T. Brett says New England’s lowest-in-the-nation public investment in higher education may undermine the region’s competitiveness.
  • Noted Yale University child psychiatrist James Comer urges higher education to seriously address issues of childrearing and social, psycho-emotional and moral-ethical development.
  • Seymour Papert, co-founder of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, asks why schools haven’t taken advantage of children’s love affair with computers to dramatically improve science education—and why the intellectual world of higher education is so unconcerned.
  • Harvard’s Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies, Chris Dede, calls for major shifts in education, including reconfiguring public education to offer universal access to K-14.
  • Economist Sandy Baum of Skidmore College and the College Board proposes a system of annual contributions to college savings accounts for children from low-income families.
  • U.S. Congressman John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), the only New England member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, outlines a plan to give colleges incentives to keep a lid on tuition and to double the maximum Pell Grant.
  • University of Massachusetts Boston professor of history and American studies Esther Kingston-Mann describes how knowledge is being expanded and improved by research approaches that go beyond the traditional focus on Western European, middle-class men.
  • Aetna Foundation President Marilda L. Gandara offers strategies to get more Latinos interested in higher education.
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst natural sciences dean George M. Langford addresses America’s over-reliance on foreign science and engineering talent.
  • Former Connecticut Higher Education Commissioner Andrew G. De Rocco urges NEBHE to play a role in brokering research and study opportunities between New England’s public and private sectors.
  • Former Quinebaug Valley Community College President Robert E. Miller suggests that NEBHE help develop the most comprehensive and efficient education consortium in the United States.

Profs Without Borders • Michael Lestz, associate professor of history at Trinity College and director of Trinity’s O’Neill Asia Cum Laude Endowment, outlines an intriguing proposal to reconnect American higher education with the world through an organization of teams of expert professors across fields modeled after the respected Doctors Without Borders program. “In the wake of a tragedy like last year’s devastating tsunami, Profs Without Borders could have assembled a multidisciplinary team topromote the reconstruction of a destroyed city in Thailand or Indonesia,” writes Lestz. “The team could bring a ‘best practice’ approach and advice on creating rapid and cost-effective solutions to housing and a host of other practical problems in the affected area and, in the process, provide models that might work elsewhere.” Profs Without Borders teams could also help Uzbekistan write a new constitution, for example, or assist Afghanistan in restructuring a once corrupt police system.


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