New England Leaders Call for the Accelerated Reinvention of the Region’s Higher Education Sector

By Wendy A Lindsay

The New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) calls for the accelerated reinvention of the region’s higher education sector to address the pressing challenges and opportunities facing the six-state region.

NEBHE has identified four priority areas for collaborative action over the coming years: enhancing opportunities for adult learners, expanding cost-savings opportunities for students and institutions, advancing PreK-16 alignment, and further efforts to articulate the public value of postsecondary education.

“Adoption of these strategic priorities will help ensure that NEBHE’s work is tailored to the specific needs of our region over the next few years,” said Maine Rep. Matthea Daughtry, a NEBHE delegate and chair of the Board’s Policy Committee. “Our states and institutions are facing a pivotal point, and it’s time for us to take meaningful and swift action. Whether it’s helping ensure that adult learners have pathways to postsecondary opportunities and workforce training, or strengthening alignment between our PreK-12 schools and higher education institutions, these priorities will guide our work in addressing some of the most compelling issues facing our region.”

The NEBHE board of delegates, comprising leaders in higher education, state government and business from the six New England states, approved the priorities at its annual spring meeting held in March at Lasell College in Newton, Mass. In addition, NEBHE issued a Call to Action to critical stakeholders including: presidents, trustees, faculty and other leaders of New England higher education institutions; governors, legislators and policymakers; regulators and accreditors; and employers and business leaders–whose continued leadership is essential.

Adult learners

“Rhode Island has set a very ambitious attainment goal that 70% of all Rhode Islanders will have post high school certifications, degrees and credentials,” said Rhode Island Commissioner of Postsecondary Education Brenda Dann-Messier, who is a NEBHE delegate.

“Our deep commitment to serving adults drives our innovation to improve access and completion, address inequities and broaden opportunities collaboratively with partners equally devoted to these goals,” said Dann-Messier. “Our plan to effectively serve the more than 110,000 adults with some college but no degree and the 150,000 adults who hold no more than a high school diploma or its equivalent has been set in motion. We are pleased that NEBHE has identified adult learners as a key priority, and we look forward to sharing our work as well as learn from our New England colleagues on the needed policies, programs and services.”

The NEBHE Board envisions the region working strategically to enhance and expand postsecondary opportunities for adult learners through increased access, affordability and targeted programs and policies to promote successful completion.

NEBHE’s work in this area will include generating data profiles of adult learners, as well as reporting on best practices for serving adults through state-based initiatives, employer partnership models and legislation in and outside New England.

NEBHE will also consider a number of regionwide activities to bring focus to the importance of better serving adult learners, such as a regional summit and launching a web-based directory of higher education institutions with adult-friendly services, policies and practices.

Cost-saving collaborations

NEBHE plans to develop new cost-saving collaborations to help institutions, systems and states change business models, lower operating costs and contain student tuition and fees.

Examples of cost-saving opportunities under consideration include resource sharing for academic program provision in specialized disciplines and expanding the availability and use of Open Education Resources (OER).

Such efforts will build upon NEBHE’s current cost-containment programs made available to education institutions and agencies throughout New England, including purchasing programs for technology, cyber insurance, student health insurance and a master property program.

PreK-16 alignment

Advancing PreK-16 alignment is critical to promoting college-and-career readiness and successful transition from PreK-12 to postsecondary opportunities and success.

NEBHE will focus on areas where alignment is especially needed, such as addressing equity gaps in postsecondary education access and attainment, and the award and transfer of credit for early college, dual and concurrent enrollment. Additionally, NEBHE plans to examine dual enrollment policies and programs in the region, college-readiness indicators, and FAFSA-completion trends and initiatives.

Public value of higher ed

“NEBHE’s efforts to strengthen and promote the value of a postsecondary education will be of benefit to all of New England,” said Rhode Island Rep. Joseph McNamara, a NEBHE delegate. “With seven of 10 jobs in the future requiring a postsecondary credential, we need to collaborate now more than ever to increase opportunities for college access and success, which is essential for the economic health of our small region,” added McNamara.

NEBHE will engage key stakeholders to better articulate the significant public value of postsecondary education to New England and its residents through expanded advocacy and outreach.

Specific work that NEBHE plans to undertake includes documenting the return on investment (ROI) to individual and public investments in higher education including state-by-state summaries. NEBHE plans to hold state-based briefings to highlight efforts and innovations to address affordability with media engagement.

The High Value Credentials for New England Project (HVCNE), for example, aims to increase transparency about credentials, communicate their labor market value and ROI, to help inform individuals’ education and career pathways and mitigate skills gaps.


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