RCC questions report on possible merger

Bridgit Brown | 12/6/2011, 4:08 p.m.

Bunker Hill has more than 13,000 students and is considered one of the most diverse institutions of higher education in Massachusetts, with six in 10 students being persons of color and more than half of its students being women.

 The report contends that in order for the Commonwealth to meet the demands of the not-so-distant future, it must invest in training middle-skilled workers who will eventually help to drive the success of the economy in the coming years.

 As it stands, middle-skill jobs represent 40 percent or the largest share of jobs now in the state. But workers lack the skills to do these jobs, which require more than a high school diploma but not exactly a four-year degree.

These jobs include construction work, nursing, paramedics, IT support, biotech work and other occupations that a community college education can prepare one for. By 2016, The National Skills Coalition calculated that 38 percent of the job openings in the Commonwealth will consist of middle-skill jobs.  

The report describes the function of community colleges across the nation, stating that they generally follow two forms of governance: a centralized form, which governs colleges based on various criteria and measures; and a decentralized system of independently run colleges with only basic state reporting requirements.

Massachusetts uses the latter, whereby each community college has its own independent Board of Trustees, which is responsible for “the administrative management of personnel, staff services, and general business of the institution under its authority.”

But this is part of the problem, according to the report.

“The Massachusetts system lumps community colleges together with all of its public higher education institutions, and in doing so, there is no singular focus on community college oversight, advocacy and funding,” the report stated.

Citing examples in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Arkansas, Washington and Ohio, which all use a centralized approach to community college governance, the report said that in each of these states “the centralized governance … strengthens their capacity to serve as work force dynamos and allows for a single, clear voice to their state legislatures with respect to budget requests and resource needs.”

President Gomes disagreed. He said that centralizing the community college system would put the distribution of dollars in the hands of one particular entity that would determine how the colleges allocated their funds and, equally important, what is allocated.

“We’d like to think that we know best what our needs are with our boards and what works best for us,” Gomes said. “We need to be more involved and there needs to be more details with our presence and input based upon a formula that makes sense to us in terms of how that’s done.”

Gomes also said the report does not give the community college systems credit for the successful work that it has been doing.

“I think what’s important to point out is that, for me, the real strength of the community college really lies in its individuality and uniqueness,” Gomes explained. “We are here in our communities to meet the needs of our respective communities. This community fought long and hard to keep [RCC] as a stabilizing force in this community.”