Spring Has Sprung? You’d never know by the snow on the ground in many parts of New England, but the announcements of spring commencement speakers at the region’s higher education institutions have begun. Capt. Richard Phillips will deliver the commencement address at Vermont’s Castleton University in May. The former captain of the Maersk Alabama was enrolled at Castleton as an art major when he was kidnapped by Somali pirates. His was an inspiring story that made it to the silver screen, though my son, who is wise beyond his years and worked with resettled Somalis in Burlington, Vt., worried the hit movie could spur a backlash. … Northeastern University announced its speaker will be U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. … Should anyone doubt the impact of college commencements on the area, a website called BostonZest carries a list of Spring 2016 graduations that “helps visitors to Boston understand why hotel rooms are so expensive and restaurant reservations so scarce on some dates in May.”
Dangerous Places. We recently tweeted about the University of Hartford’s announcement that it’s the first higher ed institution in New England to equip public safety officers with “stop the bleed” kits to save lives during mass casualty events. We’ve also had the pleasure of publishing pieces about “hyperlocal smartphone alerts” to notify students of local events, weather advisories and deals from nearby merchants, but also to protect them from campus shooters and prove compliance with the Clery Act that requires campuses to report on crime and safety. Innovative technologies have always been spawned by the region’s higher ed. And now these are sadly required by today’s campuses. So are semi-automatic rifles for campus police if you believe Northeastern and Boston University.
Closing Generation Gaps. Programs that bring together senior citizens and young people seem a no-brainer for a region that is aging fast and depends economically on talent of all ages. Latest exhibit: Quinsigamond Community College and Marlboro, Mass. city officials began a partnership offering senior citizens healthy lunches cooked by college culinary students. Quinsigamond officials noted that co-op students receive hands-on experience in food preparation and menu planning, while earning a certificate in Hospitality and Dietary Management.
Lend Me Your Ear … and More. The Boston Globe recently reported on the increasing number of companies offering a new employee benefit to help pay off college loans. Natixis Global Asset Management S.A. and Fidelity Investments were the main examples, offering to pay up to $10,000 in federal student loans of employees of at least five years. Diane Saunders, then a VP at Nellie Mae, shared the concept with NEJHE (then called Connection) 20 years ago. Years later, the Maine Compact for Higher Education tried to enlist Maine companies to provide tuition remission and other forward-looking workforce education policies, but got few takers.
Out of State. The Washington Post and others recently stated the obvious (again): “America’s most prominent public universities were founded to serve the people of their states, but they are enrolling record numbers of students from elsewhere to maximize tuition revenue as state support for higher education withers.” Indeed, we reported a decade ago on higher ed access guru Tom Mortenson’s assertion: “Public four-year colleges and universities in 28 states, including three New England states, have been dealing with their budget problems by increasing enrollment of out-of-state residents and decreasing their share of enrollment of lower-income Pell Grant recipients since the early 1990s.” He called it “enrollment management at its worst.” … A more recent report by the American Council on Education reveals that most incoming freshmen attending public four-year colleges and universities enroll within 50 miles of their home. For more than a half century, NEBHE’s Regional Student Program Tuition Break has stretched that sense of home, enabling residents of the six New England states to pay a reduced tuition rate when they enroll at out-of-state public colleges and universities within the six-state region and pursue approved degree programs not offered by their home-state public institutions. In some cases, students may be eligible when their home is closer to an out-of-state college than to an in-state college. … Meanwhile, the national think tank New America’s report, “Starting From Scratch,” would replace the current federal higher education financing system, which it characterizes as a voucher program “where aid follows students” to one based on formula-funded grants made to states.
Or Regional? Speaking of coveting your neighbor’s goods, Massachusetts recently celebrated luring General Electric’s headquarters to Boston. The Hub is sparkling and thriving, and the city wants to enhance its reputation as a magnet for innovation. But somehow it’s a little less satisfying when the booty is coaxed from another New England state; GE had been bringing good things to life from headquarters in Fairfield, Conn. Never mind that the company has the reputation of being a notorious tax-avoider.
Over the Piscataqua. The population of New Hampshire surpassed that of Maine for the first time in 200 years according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, analyzed by Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey School at the University of New Hampshire. Since mid-2010, New Hampshire added about 14,000 residents, while Maine added fewer than 1,000. Maine recorded what traditional economists consider a grim demographic equation: More people died than were born.
The Other Training. New England’s railroads are an overlooked asset in the region’s education and economic future. MassLive reports that planning is in the early stages for frequent north-south passenger trains on the “Knowledge Corridor” from Springfield, Mass., stopping in Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield. Recently, freight trains began carrying the first shipping containers loaded on the Portland, Maine waterfront to connect with freight customers throughout North America. It’s cheaper to move heavy cargo by train than truck, because more can be moved at once with less fuel and fewer workers. In the Boston area, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is revisiting an idea first proposed in 2014 to sell large quantities of discounted passes to colleges and universities. Railroads already offers convenient passenger service to Bridgewater State University and the University of New Hampshire, as well as Greater Boston campuses.
Green(Mountain)Peace. Vermont once again was the top-ranked state in per-capita Peace Corps volunteers. (Vermont has also suffered disproportionately more deaths in the Iraq War than any other state.)
Town-Gown Is Back in Fashion. Colby College is buying distressed properties on Main Street in Waterville, Maine, planning to build a dormitory there and create a fund to provide loans and grants to small businesses. The city of 16,000 has the advantages of the 810-seat Opera House, the Maine Film Center and the Colby College Museum of Art.
Do You Speak Code-ish? Interesting to read of the “A100” 12-week bootcamp in New Haven that sharpens the skills of recent computer science graduates to be software developers across the state. The weekly New Haven Independent notes that a fleet of young software developers around the city will “create a true tech scene in New Haven,” already including two new startups, one a chauffeur service called I Drive Your Car, the other a healthcare service called Patient Wisdom. As the weekly quotes A100 founder Derek Koch: “It’s part of generating a successful startup ecosystem.” Now, whether high school students should be allowed to substitute computer coding classes for foreign language requirements as Florida legislators have considered is a bit less less clear.
The Weakest Among Us. Massachusetts has the highest rate of abused children in the nation. There could be no more ominous stat for a state’s and a region’s social and economic future. Meanwhile, Georgetown University economists reported that African Americans are overrepresented in majors that lead to low-paying jobs. But they are critical jobs: early childhood education, human service organization, social work and theology. Is it too naive to suggest that the reward system of the labor market may be the problem?
John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education.
Painting of “Still Life with Lime” by Montserrat College professor Timothy Harney.