State now controls community colleges

Howard Manly | 7/11/2012, 10:03 a.m.

FY13 budget signed by Gov. Patrick gives schools $7.5 million in performance incentives and workforce development grants

During his annual state of the commonwealth address earlier this year, Gov. Deval Patrick proposed reforming the state’s community colleges in part to meet the workforce development needs of local employers.    

The proposal called for unifying the state’s 15 autonomous community colleges into one statewide system to increase administrative efficiency, overall accountability and better provide residents with workplace skills needed to fill the estimated 120,000 job openings at the time.

In signing a $32 billion budget on Sunday, Gov. Patrick came a step closer to implementing his proposals. The legislation gives the state oversight authority by granting the governor the power to appoint the colleges’ board chairmen, includes funding incentives tied to student performance, and gives the state oversight of college presidents’ hiring, compensation and removal.

The budget provides $5 million in Performance Incentive Grants dedicated for community colleges and $2.25 million to fund Rapid Response Grants, which will allow the schools and potential employers to develop career specific curriculum based on the needs of the employer.

According to the Patrick Administration, the budget “puts community colleges at the center of the state’s workforce development strategy.”

“When we support students, put people to work, reduce health care costs and strengthen public safety, we make Massachusetts better,” said Patrick. “This budget does that through targeted investments and cost-savings reforms. It also responsibly holds the line on spending because we know our recovery is ongoing, not complete. This balanced approach keeps us on track to meet our generational responsibility of building a stronger Commonwealth.”

The governor’s reforms follow a report released last November that called for overhauling state governance of the community colleges to improve the way they train students for jobs. The report, labeled “The Case for Community Colleges: Aligning Higher Education and Workforce Needs in Massachusetts,” was financed by The Boston Foundation, a civic group and major provider of grants to nonprofit organizations.

Among the reforms adopted by the budget are:

•    Stronger connections between the Department of Higher Education and leadership of the
      community colleges.

•    Stronger connection and accountability between community colleges and vocational/technical

•    Increased oversight and integration of workforce development initiatives at the regional level.

“I think you’re going to have a more efficient and effective system of community colleges,” state Education Secretary Paul Reville said of the reforms.

But lawmakers blocked Patrick’s effort to rein in student costs by establishing state guidelines for fee hikes.

 “In general it’s passing too heavy of a burden on to students, which is why the governor has fought to keep fees down,” Reville said in a published report. “If [the system] is more efficient, then by definition we’re saving more money through operations and we don’t have to raise fees as much to balance the budgets.”

Overall, the 2013 fiscal budget marked a move away from years of austerity. In fiscal year 2012, Patrick cut spending by $750 million, the biggest year-on-year cut in two decades.

Under the proposal, the Board of Higher Education (BHE) will have the authority to allocate all state funding to community colleges in Massachusetts, consolidating 15 separate funding lines into a single line item within the Department of Higher Education budget.

The BHE will be responsible for developing a system for making funding allocations to the individual community colleges that will take into account enrollment data; institutional performance and innovation; the creation of “stackable credentials” and credits that can be easily transferred across campuses; and the creation of new programs that are better aligned with regional labor market needs, according to the Patrick Administration.