John O. Harney

Developing human+ skills in students so they can thrive in workplace

From The New England Journal of Higher Education (NEJHE), a service of The New England Board of Higher Education (

“The world will need more agile and resilient thinkers with a serious handle on various technologies and digital literacies.”

Michelle Weise is senior vice president for workforce strategies and chief innovation officer at Strada Education Network. Weise is a higher education expert who specializes in innovation and connections between higher education and the workforce. She built and led Sandbox ColLABorative at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and the higher education practice of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. With Christensen, she co-authored Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution, a book that focuses on how to align online competency-based education with changing labor market needs.

In the following Q&A, NEJHE Executive Editor John O. Harney asks Weise about her insights on connecting postsecondary education to the world of work.

Harney: The relationship between education and employability seems widely understood now. What’s truly new in this area?

Weise: What’s different today is that with all the trending conversations about the future of work, the new narrative is that the most valuable workers now and in the future will be those who can combine technical knowledge with uniquely human skills. Over the last few decades, students have moved in large numbers to career-oriented majors, such as business, health and engineering—clearly hearing that the surest path to a meaningful, financially stable career is also the most straightforward one. Those pursuing liberal arts degrees, on the other hand, are on the decline. Policymakers have been particularly down on the outcomes of liberal arts, questioning the value of these majors as relevant to the challenges ahead.

But it’s not either/or; it’s both/and. Human skills alone are not enough and neither are technical skills on their own. This runs somewhat counter to the rallying cries in the 2000s, warning of a dearth of STEM majors to meet the demands of the emerging tech-enabled knowledge economy. But not all of the jobs will require STEM majors or data science wizards or people who fully grasp the technicalities of artificial intelligence. There are differing levels of depth and shallowness of that technical expertise needed alongside human skills that are in high demand.

With that nuance comes the need for real-time labor market data. Fortunately, with partners like Emsi, we can now extract the skills from job postings from businesses (demand-side data) and social profiles and resumes from people (supply-side data), and begin to look underneath traditional occupational classification schemes to observe how specific knowledge and skills cluster with one another. By doing this, we can more clearly diagnose the realities of work, education and skills requirements, and how skills develop and morph across regions and industries. This is essential because it gives learning providers insights that are more current and certainly more accurate, so that they may develop and refine curriculum and advise learners for a rapidly changing workplace.

Harney: Strada’s work regarding “On-ramps to Good Jobs” explicitly references “working class Americans”? Who are they and what are some of the learn-earn-learn strategies with the best traction?

Weise: We use the term “working class” to refer to people who represent the lowest quartile of adults in terms of educational attainment, earnings, and income (26%). We estimate that there are approximately 44 million working-class adults who are of working age (25- to 64-years-old) earning less than $35,000 annually and with less than $70,000 of family income.

What we call on-ramps to good jobs are programs designed, tailored and targeted for these learners with significant barriers to educational and economic success. Some of the most interesting models we found leveraged a “try-before-you-buy” outsourced apprenticeship model. Unlike in traditional apprenticeship models, the employer of record is the on-ramp, and the hiring employer acts as a client to the on-ramp. Apprentices are paid by the on-ramp but work on projects for client firms that are testing out that particular apprentice as a future job candidate. These models are great ways of building steady revenue streams that are sustainable, so that on-ramps reduce dependence on philanthropic or government dollars.

LaunchCode, a St. Louis-based tech bootcamp, hires and manages apprentices from its own program and, in turn, charges businesses $35 an hour for services. If, at program’s end, the employer hires an apprentice, the employer does not have to pay a placement fee, as LaunchCode’s overhead costs have been covered by the hourly service charge paid by employers during the training and pre-hire apprenticeship period.

As another example, Techtonic, a software development company based in Denver, has implemented an outsourced apprenticeship, now certified by the U.S. Department of Labor. Candidates are screened and then put through 12 weeks of training, akin to a coding bootcamp. After learners finish their training, Techtonic “hires” the apprentices, pays them entry-level wages, and pairs them with senior developers to work on projects for its clients. Not only do apprentices get paid for work, but they also simultaneously develop and hone the skills they will need for long-term career success. At the same time, Techtonic’s client firms have a seamless, low-stakes way of evaluating a candidate’s work before committing to full-time employment.

Harney: You also reference “good/decent jobs” … what do these entail?

Weise: We’re talking about jobs that have strong starting salaries that can move a person out of low-wage work to be able to thrive in the labor market by making at least $35k per year as an individual, and a lot more than that in many cases. This is critical for the bottom quartile of working-age adults in terms of educational attainment, earnings and income. We now have 44 million Americans who are jobless or lacking the skills, credentials and networks they need to earn enough income to support themselves and their families. We need better solutions for our most vulnerable citizens.

So when we talk about a good job, we’re not just talking about a well-paying, dead-end job; we’re looking at jobs that have mobility built into them. We want to focus on jobs with promise, or the ability to advance and move up.

Harney: What is the role of non-degree credentials in our understanding of education and employability?

Weise: We know that when people pursue postsecondary education, their main motivation is around work and career outcomes. If they can get there without a degree, is that enough for some? And what about folks who already have degrees who want to advance with just a little bit more training? More college or more graduate school will not be the answer. Flexibility, convenience, relevance … these may be attributes that are much more alluring than the package of a degree.

The business of skills-building is mostly occurring within the confines of federal financial aid models and the credit hour, but there’s an even wider range of opportunities to dream up innovative funding models and partnerships with employers. I’m eager to see more solutions that tie in with the training and development \or learning and development sides of a business rather than through the human resources side of tuition-reimbursement benefits. Where are the employers innovating new forms of on-the-job training?

This, by the way, is a huge opportunity for competency-based education (CBE) providers to serve, but everyone’s busy creating new CBE degreeprograms. What makes CBE disruptive, which is what Clayton Christensen and I pointed to in Hire Education, is that when learning is broken down into competencies—not by courses or subject matter—online competency-based providers can easily arrange modules of learning and package them into different, scalable programs for very different industries. For newer fields such as data science, logistics or design thinking that do not necessarily exist at traditional institutions, online competency-based education providers can leverage modularization and advanced technologies and build tailored programs on demand that match the needs of the labor market.

Harney: Can an employability focus go too far in terms of turning education into a purely vocational endeavor? As an English major and expert in literature and arts, what are your concerns about how steps such as gainful employment guidelines could discourage students from going into such fields and teacher prep, for example?

Weise: That was actually one of the motivations for clarifying the outcomes of liberal arts grads in the labor market. Current views on the liberal arts are often polarizing and oversimplified, and so we wrote “Robot-Ready: Human+ Skills for the Future of Work.” This paper was designed to bring more nuance and rigor to the conversation. Liberal arts graduates are neither doomed to underemployment, nor are they prepared to do anything they want. The liberal arts can give us the agile thinkers of tomorrow, but to live up to their potential, they must evolve. The liberal arts are teaching high-demand skills that can help people transfer from domain to domain, but they do not provide students with enough insight into the pathways available and the practical grounding to acquire before they graduate. In this analysis, we show precisely the kinds of hybrid skills needed in the top 10 pathways that liberal arts grads tend to pursue.

As a quick example, if we have learners considering journalism, they need to know that the roles available now resemble those in IT fields. Not only must journalists report, write or develop stories, but they must also demonstrate metrics-based interpretive skills, fluency in analytics capabilities like search engine optimization (SEO), JavaScript, CSS and HTML, and experience using Google Analytics to better understand who is accessing their content.

A liberal arts education can, in fact, enable learners to learn for a lifetime, but it’s not some magical phenomenon. It takes work, effort and awareness to identify the skills that enable learners to make themselves more marketable and break down barriers to entry.

Harney: What will future workers need to work effectively alongside artificial intelligence?

Weise: The literature on the future of work points us to the more human side of work. The research underscores the growing need for human skills such as flexibility, mental agility, ethics, resilience, systems thinking, communication and critical thinking. The idea is that with the rapid developments in machine learning, robotics and computing, humans will have to relinquish certain activities to computers because there’s simply no way to compete. But things like emotional intelligence or creativity will become increasingly critical for coordinating with computers and robots and ensuring that we are indispensable.

The question then becomes: What are we doing in a deliberate way within our learning experiences—at schools, colleges, companies, government—to cultivate these uniquely human skills? I think we can be doing a whole lot more in terms of building robot-ready learners of the future through project-based learning. It’s nothing new; It occurs in pockets but is not nearly widespread enough. Ultimately, it gets us those nimble thinkers of the future.

Real-world human problem-solving is transdisciplinary by nature, tapping into varied skills and knowledge—and yet, our postsecondary system remains stubbornly stovepiped. Students must learn—and be taught—to connect one domain of knowledge to another through what is known as “far transfer.”

But again, human skills alone are not enough: It’s human+. The world will need more agile and resilient thinkers with a serious handle on various technologies and digital literacies. Those workers will need both human and technical skills. With stronger problem-based models, it’ll be easier for education providers to stay ahead of the curve and build in new and emerging skill sets in data analytics, blockchain, web development or digital marketing that students will need in order to be successful in the job market. The integration of more project-based learning into the classroom would bring more clarity to how human+ skills translate into real-world problem solving and workplace dexterity.


John O. Harney: Atlantis in New England and other topics

Athanasius Kircher   's map of Atlantis, placing it in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, from  Mundus Subterraneus  (1669), published in Amsterdam. The map is oriented with    south at the top   .

Athanasius Kircher's map of Atlantis, placing it in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, from Mundus Subterraneus (1669), published in Amsterdam. The map is oriented with south at the top.

Ruminations from John O. Harney, executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education, a service of The New England Board of Higher Education (

Unvites. I recently enjoyed a fascinating panel discussion on Protesting the Podium: Campus Disinvitations sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center. The panelists were former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, Harvard professor Harvey C. Mansfield, Middlebury College professor Matthew J. Dickinson and Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth. They all had some kind of run-in with once-again radioactive speech issues on campus … and they were all smart as whips. Dickinson said he prefaces his classes now by telling students they are not in a “safe space,” but rather in a place where issues will be discussed using intellectual debate and that all students must be heard, especially marginalized students. Kerrey, also former president of the New School, worried that amidst the clamor of so much social media, people have to resort to insult to be heard. Roth, who acknowledges a certain “affirmative action” for conservative ideas, noted that students are suspicious of free speech to advance certain agendas, particularly when it is “weaponized” by money and technology.

Diversifying study-abroad. Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) enroll over 25% of all U.S. college students, but accounted for just 11% of all U.S. study-abroad students in the 2016-17 academic year, according to a report by the Center for Minority Serving Institutions and the Council on International Educational Exchange. The report focuses on the obstacles that discourage students from studying abroad, including barriers of cost, culture and curriculum, which may be worse at MSIs. A small step forward: The report highlights the Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship created by the two organizations to cover costs for 10 outstanding MSI students to participate in a four-week study-abroad program focused on intercultural communication and leadership.

Batten down the hatches. The U.S faces more than $400 billion in costs over the next 20 years to defend coastal communities from inevitable sea-level rise, according to a study done by the Center for Climate Integrity in partnership with the engineering firm, Resilient Analytics. The study looked at thousands of miles of coastline to determine areas that are at risk of being at least 15% underwater by 2040 due to rising seas and land-based ice melts. In New England, the study forecast that seawalls needed by 2040 would cost about $19 billion for Massachusetts, $11 billion for Maine, $5 billion for Connecticut, $3 billion for Rhode Island and $1 billion for New Hampshire. What does this have to do with higher ed? Of course, climate change has to do with everything. But more specifically, see NEJHE’s A Modest Proposal to Save the Planet.

Watched pot. Clark University in Worcester, Mass., this fall will launch America’s first Certificate in Regulatory Affairs for Cannabis Control, a three-course online graduate certificate program designed to help professionals, ranging from police to pot vendors, to understand the complications, opportunities and risks associated with the industry. Worcester will also be the future headquarters of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission—and incidentally, the new home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, Exhibit A (along with GE) in the building case of New England’s not-quite team spirit in site planning.

Benefits. A MAVY poll on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs asked “young adult job seekers” to name the employees benefits that would most help them achieve their financial goals. The top choices were: 1) health insurance, 2) paid time off, 3) student loan forgiveness and 4) working remotely. The CPA group played up the high ranking of student loan debt, and indeed, 2020 presidential candidates are energized by the issue. MAVY polls are developed by the University of Florida and partners and focused on millennials. This one defined “young adult job seekers” as millennials who graduated from college in the past 24 months or will graduate in the next 12 months and are currently looking for employment.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education.

John O. Harney: Some interesting New England facts and figures


From The New England Board of Higher Education ( as compiled by its executive editor, John O. Harney:

“From time to time, we revive the collection of facts and figures called ‘Data Connection’ that we had published quarterly for nearly 20 years in the print editions of The New England Journal of Higher Education (formerly Connection).

The latest ...

Inflation-adjusted increase in household incomes for the bottom quarter of Maine workers between 2016 and 2017 after the state's voter-approved minimum wage increase: 10%, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

Reduction in number of Maine children living in poverty between 2016 and 2017 after the minimum wage increase: 10,000 according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

Percentage of respondents to the University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy's Upper Valley Child Care Survey who reported that child care is necessary in order for them to work: 96%. (The Upper {Connecticut River} Valley includes Orange and Windsor Counties in Vermont and Grafton and Sullivan Counties in New Hampshire.)

Number of children under age 5 in the Upper Valley Census who live in fully employed families (two working parents if they live with two and one working parent if they live with one): 7,300, according to the Carsey School of Public Policy.

Number of licensed slots available for children in this age group: 4,995, according to the Carsey School of Public Policy.

Number of reported hate crimes per 100,000 people in 2016 in Massachusetts: 5.9. (Data reported to the FBI from agencies—reportedly the highest rate of any state, but also drawn from more agencies than some states, including 70 communities, several colleges and the MBTA.)

U.S. ranks of Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut among "healthiest" U.S. states, according to United Health Foundation: 1, 3, 5 America's Health Rankings, according to the United Health Foundation.

U.S. rank of South Burlington. Vt., among WalletHub's 2018’s Best & Worst Cities for People with Disabilities, based on 31 indicators of disability-friendliness, ranging from wheelchair-accessible facilities per capita to rate of workers with disabilities to quality of public hospital system: 2 ,according to WalletHub

U.S. rank of New Haven, Conn.: 182, according to WalletHub.

John O. Harney: The changing public perceptions of higher education

View of Middlebury College, in the quintessential college town of Middlebury, Vt.,  with the Green Mountains in the background.

View of Middlebury College, in the quintessential college town of Middlebury, Vt.,  with the Green Mountains in the background.

Via the New England Board of Higher Education (

American confidence in higher education began waning at just the time that more people began to see colleges as more concerned about their bottom lines than about education and making sure students have a good education experience, Public Agenda President Will Friedman told educators gathered in Boston on Monday at a NEBHE panel discussion on “The Changing Public Perceptions of the Value of Higher Education: Is It a Public Good?”

The discussion was moderated by Kirk Carapezza, managing editor at WGBH, a NEBHE partner. N.H state Rep. Terry Wolf, a NEBHE delegate, offered one state’s response.

The benefits of going to college and the importance of higher education institutions were once held to be a creed as American as apple pie. But recurring state budget challenges have constrained investment. Consistently rising tuitions—fueled by increasing college costs—have alarmed many. Politics and free-speech controversies have raised questions about college and universities’ openness and balance of perspectives. In short, times have changed.

Questions swirl:

How are public opinions toward higher education changing?

Why are higher education’s value propositions suspect in the eyes of some policymakers and citizens?

Does this division mirror party lines?

Has higher education been fairly—or falsely—tarred as inefficient?

Has the higher ed enterprise overcompensated for these perceptions by obsessing with business models and efficiency?

What has this apparent shift meant to egalitarian higher education concepts such as need-blind admissions, sabbaticals (ideally to pursue deep thinking), basic vs. applied research, and tenure (especially to protect academic freedom)?

What has it meant for the role of expert faculty informing civic policy outside academe and enriching discourse as “public scholars”?

What about the role of so-called “college towns” sustaining bookstores, theaters, cafes and other businesses favored by college students, budding entrepreneurs, faculty and visitors?

NEBHE was an “early adopter” of the higher education-economic development connection. What role can NEBHE play in balancing New England’s interest in advancing knowledge … and growing its knowledge economy?

Friedman said it wouldn’t be a tremendous shock if prospective students were beginning to question the value of higher ed. Every major institution except the military and libraries have lost major credibility, he said.

Most people still believe higher education is the key to the American dream. And indeed, a surfeit of data continues to show that the more higher education one has, the higher their salary. (Notably, Tom Mortenson, the longtime publisher of Postsecondary Education Opportunity, has also compiled trend data showing states with better-educated populations show better measures of economic, civic, physical and social health, ranging from higher citizen voting rates to lower infant mortality rates.)

But after years of going up, the percentage of people saying higher ed is necessary to success has begun to go down. One reason is student debt. Another is the decline in stable middle-class jobs.

Plus, there’s a partisan dynamic. Pew research shows that among Republicans specifically, the question of whether higher ed has a positive effect in the country fell off the cliff in 2015. In a 2017 survey from Civis Analytics, 46% of Republicans said they were concerned that colleges were pushing people toward a specific political view, compared with 5% of Democrats.

Carapezza recalled that when his WGBH crew visited schools in Germany, they learned that student debt was viewed there as shame (one audience member whispered that it's also seen that way in U.S. minority neighborhoods). Higher ed in Germany, Carapezza said, is seen as a public good, whereas here it is seen as a private gain.

Wolf conceded that some legislators would be happy to totally defund higher education. And negative perceptions spread quickly via social media. She urged leaders to change the way they talk about higher education. If you have a bachelor’s degree it means you can make a million dollars more over your career than someone with a high school diploma only. So why doesn’t an ad campaign promote the chance to make a million dollars?

Plus, a legislator, Wolf said she has to take care of senior citizens and tackle the opioid epidemic before helping college students who, she noted, could be aided less expensively though dual enrollment with high schools.

Some audience members lamented that we were educating too many social workers vs. carpenters (because you can see what they do)—somewhat reminiscent of a campaigning Marco Rubio’s concerns that we need more welders and fewer philosophers.

Of course, we need both.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education, part of NEBHE.


John O. Harney: Comings & goings in New England academia

Via The New England Board of Higher Education (

Judy D. Olian, dean and John E. Anderson Chair in Management at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, was named the first woman president of Quinnipiac University, succeeding John L. Lahey.

University of Maine at Farmington President Kathryn A. “Kate” Foster was appointed the next president of The College of New Jersey, beginning July 1.

Mount Holyoke College appointed its first vice president for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer: Kijua Sanders-McMurtry, who is currently vice president and dean for community diversity at Agnes Scott College in Georgia.

The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth appointed Smith College Vice President for Alumnae Relations Jennifer Chrisler, formerly executive director of the nonprofit Family Equality Council, to be the university's vice chancellor for advancement.

The New England Aquarium named Vikki Spruill, currently leader of the Council on Foundations, to be the new president and CEO of the aquarium, which hosted 1.4 million visitors last year, but also closed several times recently due to coastal flooding at its Boston waterfront location.

John O. Harney is executive editor of the England Journal of Higher Education, part of the New England Board of Higher Education.




John O. Harney: September song -- jobs, demographics, town & gown, etc.

September, from the   Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry .

Via the New England Board of Higher Education (

Post-Labor Days. For many, that means time to put away the white pants and relish that last summer getaway. Few will reflect on the true meaning of Labor Day (and May Day) or the too-often-denigrated labor movement in general. Fewer will think of the 19th Century mill girls in Lowell, Mass., and their successors who risked their jobs—and sometimes their lives—to create the day of recognition for workers. Many of today’s employers keep their shifts going even during Labor Day. Many professionals dabble with work even during the paid time off the labor movement won for them (though even today the U.S. is the only "first world economy" that doesn’t require employers to offer any paid time off).

As historian Charles Scontras, of the University of Maine’s Bureau of Labor Education, recently noted, “Workers whose knowledge and skills are increasing[ly] linked to increased productivity and the creation of wealth, and who may have viewed with indifference the movement of manufacturing abroad for the past few decades are, themselves, increasingly experiencing living on the edge of economic insecurity.” Many students, meanwhile, got back to class in late August; speed counts. Labor Day is not what it used to be.

But labor is more crucial than ever.

Indeed, NEBHE’s Commission on Higher Education & Employability is heating up. The Commission will host a panel discussion at NEBHE’s board meeting on Sept. 14 in Maine, a full Commission meeting on Sept. 27 at Carbonite, in Boston, and a summit Dec. 4 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

The Commission is not some set of crass commercial tasks, but rather a deliberate initiative to help all New Englanders find fulfilling jobs and, in so doing, enrich the region’s economy. One concern for the Commission is bringing adult workers into the workplace to capitalize on the aging of the region's population; Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire have the oldest median agesin America. Why not go a step further and redouble efforts to make New England a world leader in all things geriatric, including deploying the region’s fabled health research expertise in a well-funded, concentrated fight against the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease?

The other side of New England's demographic challenge is the need to engage groups who have not always been well-served by education. Obviously, Donald Trump’s suggestion to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will not help.

A different brain drain. On the subject of age, New England is losing its claim to an 88-year-old genius. Famed left-wing social critic Noam Chomsky announced last month that he is leaving MIT, where he has been a linguistics professor since 1955, to join the linguistics department at the University of Arizona. Brain drain is a common worry. And the drain is often the Sun Belt (at least before climate change was understood). But the brain drain is more commonly seen through the lens of New England losing workers than losing intellectual capital, especially academics such as Chomsky who have lost favor among corporate-minded higher ed thinkers.

You work too much. Most students (59 percent) work during college. But like countless moms advised, the key is moderation. Working while in college can be a good strategy for students from low-income families to get through and get ahead in college, especially if their enlightened employers offer flexibility. But an ACT Center for Equity for Learning report suggests that working more than 15 hours a week while in college may do more harm than good—especially for students from underserved backgrounds.

The findings come just as the Trump administration proposes cutting $500 million from the federal work-study program; some estimate that would lead to only 333,000 students awarded work-study aid in 2018, compared with 634,000 in 2017.

College readiness is inherently involved in the employability effort. Even in the age of alternative credentials, higher education of some sort is critical to the region’s employability future. Much talked-about 21st Century skills generally include: collaboration ("teamwork"); communication; critical thinking (though more about solving problems than being critical of authority or mass media) and creativity (as long as it can be monetized?). Having been in Boston’s Kenmore Square around the Hub’s famed Sept. 1 move-in days, I would add one more: the ability to walk down a street without knocking anyone over.

Relevant for future enrollment? The Maine House considered a proposal to allow people with concealed carry permits to carry their firearms on public colleges (except in facilities that post signs barring them). The idea was rejected. The bill would have changed existing law that lets the trustees of the University of Maine, the Maine Community College System and the Maine Maritime Academy decide the rules for the campuses they oversee. In a line straight out of Miss Sloane, bill sponsor Rep. Richard Cebra  (R.-Naples) said the proposal is “a women’s issue” because “a small, concealed handgun creates an equality between a 100-pound woman and a 225-pound attacker.” Cebra and two colleagues also requested allowing members of the Legislature to carry concealed handguns in the statehouse, following a gun attack in Virginia on a congressional baseball practice. Across the region, Massachusetts bans guns on campus; the other five states leave it up to individual campuses, according to the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus.

Regional thinking. When we staged our mock election campaign for “Governor of New England” nearly a decade ago, one of the “candidates,” Vermont’s then treasurer, and later real governor, Jim Douglas argued: “We have 250 towns (Maine has 435) and the Legislature offered an incentive a couple of years ago to provide more school construction aid for towns that would consolidate their schools and build a joint school. They pulled back because nobody wanted to do it. So before we talk about expansion and collaboration in the federation beyond the borders, we should realize it is pretty tough to cooperate even internally sometimes.”

Hard as it is to join schools within states, Vermont and New Hampshire towns are among those considering a new interstate district. Previously, Vermont was part of the first joint compact district in the nation, when Norwich, Vt.  joined with Hanover, N.H.,  in 1964 to form the Dresden School District.

Going coed. College readiness and employability both hinge on the economic sustainability of higher ed institutions. One strategy to bolster institutional finances has been to appeal to more groups of students. The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) announced last month that it will open undergraduate admissions to male students for fall 2018. Historically, USJ admitted only women to its main undergrad programs, but began introducing coeds to various graduate programs starting in 1959. President Rhona Free cited studies showing that less than 1% of full-time female college students attend a women’s college and only 2% of female high school seniors say they’d consider attending one.

Play ball! Major League Baseball (MLB) and Northeastern University entered a partnership to provide pro ballplayers with access to higher-education programs. The agreement follows the inclusion of a new Continuing Education Program in MLB’s collective-bargaining agreement, which provides players with additional funds devoted to their educational development.

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun, who is slated to speak at the NEBHE Dec. 4 summit, said of the baseball agreement: "We must be boundless, and meet learners where they are. That is why this partnership with Major League Baseball—to prepare players at all levels for the next step in their lives and careers—is so important." The agreement provides a range of opportunities to interested players—both during and following their baseball careers—through in-person and online instruction. Players will have access to degree programs in fields such as finance, health sciences, information technology, human services, communications and psychology, data analytics, sports leadership, digital media and project management.

Peace in Maine. The Lewiston, Maine, police have been holding neighborhood meetings to address complaints about Bates College off-campus housing. Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald was quoted in the Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal as saying: "These are people who have lived there for years, and their quality of life won't be ruined by out-of-state yahoos." NEJHE has covered such delicate town-gown relations, including a full edition on Colleges In Their Places.

Being your Guide. Putting together our annual Guide to New England Colleges and Universities always offers an opportune time to inspect the region’s higher-ed landscape for institutional comings and goings. What’s new this year? Facing declining enrollment, Andover Newton Theological School of Massachusetts signed an agreement to move into Yale Divinity School, in New Haven, Conn., and become Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School. The former Rockport College connected with the University of Maine Augusta is now Maine Media College. The entire board of the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) stepped down after turmoil between the trustees, the founders and the staff. It sent us scurrying to make sure we hadn’t missed out on the circus, but alas, NECCA doesn’t fit the criteria for the Guide, notably that they be authorized to grant undergraduate or graduate degrees.

A little civility. Former NEBHE chair and frequent NEJHE editorial contributor Lou D’Allesandro reflected on the enactment of a New Hampshire Senate Bill he sponsored to develop a uniform framework for civics courses. “By outlining an instructional framework, this bill ensures that our teachers are teaching the fundamentals of democracy, the responsibilities of every citizen, and the tools to engage. At no additional cost to the state, this is a common sense measure for our students and our democracy.”

Collaborating. I was honored to join the July 2017 ACL Northeast Community Gathering at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It’s a group of collaborators who could save higher education money by sharing rather than cutting. But the consortia themselves face challenges. Neal Abraham, executive director of Five Colleges Inc.,  {Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire colleges and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst} notes that they are often seen as “cost centers” and collaboration is hardly mentioned to new officials stepping into higher ed leadership positions. At Five Colleges, which has 37 employees and is often seen as a leader among consortia, the directors of virtually every function area have turned over in the past eight years. Abraham, himself, is stepping down.

The featured speakers at the ACL Northeast Community meeting were Harvard Project Zero’s Howard Gardner and Wendy Fischman. They offered “impressions” from their work on “Liberal Arts and Sciences in the 21st Century.” The study investigates how students, parents of students, faculty, administrators, trustees, young alumni and job recruiters conceive of the purposes, best practices and most challenging features of undergraduate education in the U.S., especially liberal arts and sciences. It'll take time to see final results. But in the meantime, Fisher asks: Wouldn't we all want a population that reads the newspaper and understands it?

Missing BIF. For the first time in several years, I’ll be missing this month’s Business Innovation Factory summit, in Providence, due to a conflict. It’s always a profound inspiration. I urge you to watch the videos, which generally are released within a month or so of the event.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education, a service ofNEBHE.





John O. Harney: Northern N.E. states have much higher 'patriotic' metrics than the southern ones

This piece is by our friend John O. Harney,  executive editor of the New England Journal of Higher Education, part of the New England Board of Higher Education (, where this piece originated.

From time to time we revive the collection of facts and figures called "Data Connection" that we had published quarterly for nearly 20 years in the print editions of The New England Journal of Higher Education (formerly Connection magazine).

The latest ...

"Patriotic" rank of northern New England states measured by indicators such as share of enlisted military population, share of adults who voted in the 2016 presidential election, per-capita AmeriCorps volunteers: Maine 11th, New Hampshire 13th, Vermont 21st. 

"Patriotic" rank of southern New England states based on such indicators: Connecticut 45th, Rhode Island 47th, Massachusetts 48th .

Number of New England higher education institutions in the Princeton Review's top 20 list of "Future Rotarians and Daughters of the American Revolution" where "surveyed students' answers indicated their personal political persuasions to be very conservative, low levels of acceptance of the gay community on campus, high levels of popularity for student government on campus and a very religious student body": 2 (Gordon College, Saint Anselm College), information from The Princeton Review

Number of New England higher education institutions in the Princeton Review's top 20 list of "Birkenstock-Wearing, Tree-Hugging, Clove-Smoking Vegetarians " where "surveyed students' answers indicated their personal political persuasions to be very liberal, high levels of acceptance of the LGBTQ community on campus, low levels of popularity for student government on campus and a student body that is not very religious":  (Bennington College, Wesleyan University, University of Vermont, Brown University, Clark University),  from The Princeton Review

Average annual compensation of heads of top 50 New England boarding schools: $455,000, from

Number of U.S. colleges fielding football teams this fall: 777, from the National Football Foundation.

Number of teams added since 2011: 40, from the National Football Foundation.

Number of teams added in New England since 2011: 1 (University of New England), from thr National Football Foundation

Number of New England teams that will launch in 2017: 1 (Dean College) from the National Football Foundation

Percentage of associate degree holders who report they are effectively managing financial stress and their economic life: 27 percent, from Gallup-USA Funds

Percentage of bachelor's degree holders who report they are: 41 percent, from Gallup-USA Funds

Percentage of community college graduates who go on to earn a bachelor's degree during the next six years: 41 percent, from the National Student Clearinghouse


John O. Harney: Trying to raise the employability of New England's college students

Via the New England Board of Higher Education (


On June 28, the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) convened members of the Commission on Higher Education and Employability (CHEE) in Providence to discuss concrete ways in which New England employers, education leaders and policymakers can work together to ensure a successful, equitable workforce future.

The Commission comprises high-powered educators, employers, economists, policymakers and several students. It is chaired by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, the self-described “action-oriented” chief executive who has brought Johnson & Johnson, Virgin Pulse and Vistaprint Corporate Solutions to the Ocean State and attracted national attention with her plan for free college tuition.

NEBHE has historically been interested in higher education’s connections with economic and workforce development. Now, there’s a new urgency. As NEBHE President and CEO Michael K. Thomas wrote in an op-ed in the Providence Journal the day before the Commission convened, “Our region faces a fast-changing modern economy, as well as challenging demographic shifts, and it’s time that we optimized how higher education works with other stakeholders in our regional economy—starting by providing our students with the right skills to match tomorrow’s jobs.”

Disconnects everywhere

The Commission has a tall order. Job One is to get educators and employers simply to speak to one another.

In a recent Gallup study, 96 percent of college representatives said they felt confident in their institution’s ability to prepare students for the workforce, yet only 11 percent of business leaders agreed that today’s college graduates have the skills and competencies that business needs. Also the cultures are very different.

Kelli Vallieres, a NEBHE associate and CEO of Sound Manufacturing, a Connecticut provider of metal fabrication, recounted an “externship” she has worked on with the local high school that took ages to put together. Why? Partly because schools have so many mandates put on their time, said Vallieres.

Vermont state Rep. Kate Webb, a Commission member, added that employers have difficulty articulating the skills they need. Rounding out the dysfunction, students struggle to represent the value of their foundational skills, intelligence, adaptability and resilience … making it hard for employers to assess their strengths.

Several Commission members agreed on a need to address the disconnect between the culture of employers on one hand, and educators on the other.

Working on a plan

To help the Commission develop recommendations due out later this year, the membership is divided into working groups. At the June 28 meeting, working groups focused on: "Effective Use of Labor Market Data & Intelligence; Targeted Higher Education Partnerships; and New Economy Tech Skill Bundles''.

New Hampshire economist and Community Colleges Chancellor Ross Gittell and Andrea Comer, vice president with the Connecticut Business & Industry Association Education and Workforce Partnership, are co-chairs of the working group on Targeted Higher Education Partnerships.

Their working group embraced the full range of education providers—including public, private and new kinds of credentialing organizations—to prepare students and faculty with the talents demanded by the economy.

Gittell recounted “takeaways” from the inaugural meeting held May 31 in the Rhode Island State House. Among them: Students need opportunities for “work-integrated learning” where they learn at the workplace perhaps while earning credits or other credentials. To be attractive to employers, they also need a combination of “foundational” skills (a preferable term these days to “soft skills”) such as resiliency and industry-specific skills. There is also a need to integrate career planning early in student lives. A role for organized labor. And a regional outlook. Gittell used the example of Portsmouth, N.H., landing a big company that chose the New Hampshire seaport partly due to its proximity to Boston, Mass.

Another key to the Commission’s work, said Gittell: Industry needs to come to the table with money.

But co-chair Comer offered a caveat. She noted that Connecticut is still struggling to recover from the recession. GE and Aetna rubbed salt in the wound with their recent decisions to leave the Nutmeg State. We need to do more to encourage employers to stay, rather than asking more of them, Comer warned.

No picking winners and losers

Gittell said he cringes when he harkens back to the government policy of picking industry winners and losers. Instead, he said, New England should promote its diversity of industries across the whole region, not just in Boston and Cambridge.

The working group suggested that the Commission: Define common characteristics of best practices, create a template of partnerships that work, devise a taxonomy of workforce skills, develop granular credentials, analyze local demographic differences and produce a regional playbook along the lines of the “Communities that Work Partnership” sponsored by the Aspen Institute and funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce and private foundations.

Also the working group noted intersections between workforce investment boards (WIBs) and public schools in industry clusters. Some suggested looking at teaching itself: adapting inquiry-based, rather than traditional, techniques and creating “externships”—essentially summer internships to help teachers adopt techniques that energize students.

The group also coalesced around suggestions to watch return on investment and even to develop a “business case” for the Commission itself.

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) President Rosanne Somerson righted the ship, noting that the Commission’s goal is to create  engaged citizens and culture as much as jobs, which should at least be meaningful and fulfilling.

Love the sound of burning glass

Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies, spoke to the Commission about his firm’s belief that jobs have a “genome.” If you want students to have successful middle-class lifestyles in the 21st century, he told the audience, they need certain skills. Among those skills: data science. The jobs are not in data science per se, said Sigelman, but more than three-quarters of middle-skill occupations require digital skills. Digital skills should be integrated into every major at every degree level.

The value proposition of liberal arts seems to rise and fall. But conventional wisdom suggests that liberal arts grads will do fine with employers as long as they also have the more practical, industry-specific skills employers are looking for. For example, a student studying the classics or anthropology may be more successful with social media experience.

Hybrid jobs that mix skills sets are also the most human, so less easily automated, Sigelman said, because people increasingly will be asked to manage automation. The Rhode Island School of Design now prefers the term “intelligent augmentation” to “artificial intelligence” because it feels less like a human job-eater and more like a blender of human judgment and data.

Most of the jobs that require a college degree also want a lot of work experience, Sigelman noted. He also said there has been a larger increase in management jobs than in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) since the Great Recession; yet “middle-skills” workers (with more than a high school diploma, but less than bachelor’s degrees) are more likely to manage than MBAs.

Several employers ask for bachelor’s degrees in much larger percentages than the share of current workers in the occupation who actually have them. For example, 60% of job postings for administrative assistants ask for a college degree, but only 20 percent of current AAs have one. They do increasingly need digital skills. But Sigelman says a college degree is a proxy for some skills that could be offered in a more efficient way.

There’s a perception that those with college degrees can advance in an organization without needing more formal education.

Burning Glass has reported that among job ads that explicitly request credentials, most requested just one of 50 specific creds. Still, certifications and other signals such as academic minors and transcripts that show job-market skills help students demonstrate workplace skills. Also, Seligman added, “brand” matters for a higher education institution (HEI), including regional HEI brand recognition.

Employers are generally likely to invest in employees’ last-mile applications—training in the technical skills that employers want and that change fast, but colleges don’t offer.

Also different kinds of HEIs leave a different mark on the skills conversation. Kerry Healey, the president of Babson College and former Massachusetts lieutenant governor, observed that skills like resilience and adaptability, banishing fear of failure and learning how to be creative are things that need to be “baked in” to the curriculum for everyone. Last-mile skills like coding and computer languages and internships can be pursued extracurricularly on Fridays and weekends.

Sigelman suggested the Commission develop “communities of practice” in areas such as career services. Degrees matter, but how do we make sure they represent a bundle of skills, making them more relevant and sustainable over the life of a career?

Chasing talent

Talent is the name of the game, stressed Travis McCready, president & CEO of Mass Life Sciences Center (MLSC), in his expert testimony to the working group on Targeted Higher Education Partnerships.

He told the group that the MLSC offers a “wide aperture” for talent through middle and high schools, vocational-technical schools and postsecondary education. He added that pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis, Amgen and Shire have migrated toward talent hotspots in the Bay State.

Here, too, an equity component surfaces. School districts with high free- or reduced-lunch populations are specially invited to apply to the MLSC for funds to buy high-quality lab equipment. Once you get to college level, McCready warned, it’s too late if you’ve never worked with a graduated pipette.

Community colleges also get access to MLSC funds for lab facilities and courses. But McCready acknowledged that the MLSC is not an expert, so it serves as convener of industry and community college presidents to encourage relationships. The MLSC offers what are essentially internships and apprenticeships. They are not all lab-related. Life sciences companies need finance and liberal arts specialists too, but, McCready said, the liberal arts students who tend to get hired have some understanding of science.

Noting that more half of New England college students attend independent HEIs, Roger Williams University President Donald Farish pointed out an irony in spending big money to lure private industry but skimping historically on spending for private higher education. Especially when the demography tells us we need to bring in more students.

McCready said the MLSC has worked with Harvard and MIT, as well as small private colleges that fill a niche, such as Wellesley College with its efforts to increase women in life sciences and Regis with its work to accelerate immigrant entry in the disciplines. The MLSC had also experimented with Dean College, which traditionally had no life sciences.

Nevertheless, 70 percent of UMass grads stay and work in the state, and McCready pointed out that money invested in UMass in recent years was “catch-up” after years of low state investment.

Despite all its successes, the MLSC hasn’t cracked the code yet on black and Latino students, said McCready. Only 6 percent of Latino students go on to get hired by industry.

Equity imperative

The tough record with black and Latino students relates to the Commission’s so-called “Equity Imperative.” NEBHE wants to ensure that the workforce vision serves all New Englanders. It’s not only a matter of social justice, but also as a matter of sound economics in the slow-growing region. Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire have the oldest median-age populations in America. And where there is population growth, it’s among groups—both urban and rural—that have not been well-served by education or the job market.

All babies are equal at nine months old; but by age 2, socioeconomic factors begin having an impact on their cognitive development. An attainment gap appears. By high school, a dropout gap has taken has taken hold … soon to translate into an “employability gap.”

Underrepresented groups, for the purposes of addressing the employability gap, include: students of color, students from low-income families and first-generation students. Susan Brennan, associate vice president of university career services at Bentley University, added students with disabilities to the groups New England should bring into the equation. Some could add children of incarcerated people and scores of other sources of inequity.

At Eastern Connecticut State University—which is about 30 percent students of color—lower-income, minority and first-generation students often had no cars, so had difficulty traveling off campus to internships. White students got most of the internships, said President Elsa Núñez.

Eastern’s Work Hub eliminates that need, allowing students to develop practical skills doing real-time work assignments without having to travel off campus, and providing the insurance company Cigna with a computer network and facility where its staff could provide on-site guidance and support to Eastern student interns. Moreover, Núñez observed that the boss in Eastern’s internships automatically becomes the mentor—important in the employability discussion.

Commission member Paul LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University and guru of competency-based education, said a critical factor is to provide internships and mentors for students of color; also cultural, not academic, mentorship is needed for students who get the feeling they don’t belong, as Núñez said of her own beginnings in college.

In case anyone still doubts an equity imperative, LeBlanc cited the hard data from Deloitte showing benefits from diversity in teams. RISD’s Somerson said diversity is crucial to innovation. Núñez had a solution for companies that want a fast track to diversity: Forgive student loans.

Rhode Island College President Frank Sánchez added some keen insights to the equity panel.

Why is the conversation missing the large segments of unemployed and underemployed people who are not connecting with traditional educators? How do you formally embed employability in the curriculum? How can we bolster compassion in nursing and teaching, or help businesspeople connect with diverse populations?

Sánchez added that ironically many of the things that HEIs do to raise stature—such as increasing tuition and raising standards—hurt the most vulnerable students. To which Núñez remembered a mentor’s quote: “We can be an elite institution without being elitist.”

Some pointed out a simple overlooked truth on equity: the profound importance of stable state need-based financial aid, which has been generally up and down in New England.

Labor-Market Information

A working group on labor-market information (LMI) weighed real-time vs. traditional LMI. Real-time LMI has the virtue of capturing in-demand employability skills. But working group members agreed that the two types of LMI are complementary and should be bolstered by local intelligence, conversations with employers, local economic drivers and student body makeups.

Berkshire Community College President Ellen Kennedy suggested that the information be tweeked for different sectors to establish benchmarks and skillsets. And that exemplars offer best practices. And perhaps that the Commission identify five essential knowledge points to brand New England and make it attractive for businesses to settle.

Working group members hailed recent LMI initiatives including WorkReadyNH and Maine is IT!, a U.S. Labor Department-funded partnership with Maine community colleges. They also floated the idea of a partnership to share costs of working with outfits such as Burning Glass to look at resume data to study career progressions and occupational transitions. And they spoke of communicating how LMI can be used to improve institutions’ business practices.

Student voices

A key aspect of the NEBHE Commission is the voices of students.

Great Bay Community College alumna Heather Bollinger thought that the region could benefit from a regionwide version of WorkReadyNH. That’s a Granite State program that teaches students interviewing skills so they are prepared to enter the workforce.

Another student rep on the Commission, Mariella Lucaj of the Community College of Rhode Island, recommended marketing the Commission’s work directly to students—and encourage them think differently about their skills—and job prospects.

Desirae LeBlanc, a University of New England student on the Commission, recommended finding a way to push students to want to seek out internships; spoke of her own experiences with service learning programs helping her with employability skills.

Alas, in a nod to today’s sometime-linear thinkers, one of the student reps suggested it’s critical that a student know where they’re going. That led to a few comments about “pathways,” once all the rage, but apparently losing some luster. (Though Comer acknowledged that such structure is especially beneficial to students from underserved areas.)

Even the term “skills” was questioned as connoting lower-level work. Then, oh no, “competencies” and “proficiencies.” Add to that “scaffolding” and “emerging digital skills” and “putting ideas in a parking lot” and you see why at several points, Commissioners spoke of the need to create a sort of glossary showing definitions in the new language of career education.

Last point: We need to include all stakeholders at the table in at least yearly engagement to sustain the work. Perhaps a New England consortium for partnerships?

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education.


John O. Harney/James Martin/James E. Samels: Consolidating New England's excessive number of colleges and universities

Robert Frost Hall at Southern New Hampshire University's main campus in Manchester. The poet himself attended Dartmouth College and Harvard University but didn't graduate from either. He lived in New Hampshire for much of his life.

Robert Frost Hall at Southern New Hampshire University's main campus in Manchester. The poet himself attended Dartmouth College and Harvard University but didn't graduate from either. He lived in New Hampshire for much of his life.


Via the New England Board of Higher Education (

NEBHE has been deeply interested in how New England higher education institutions can collaborate with one another and with other leaders to confront threats to their economic sustainability. These threats stem partly from shifts in academic content and delivery, student demography and institutional finances—all set against the background of both rising expectations and eroding public perceptions of higher education. Through its Higher Education Innovation Challenge, NEBHE engaged institutional leaders in addressing head-on the critical issues of cost and economic sustainability, while developing analytical tools and convenings to help campuses survive and thrive.

Notably, NEBHE President and CEO Michael K. Thomas’s monograph "Between Collaboration and Merger: Expanding Alliance Strategies in Higher Education," explains how higher education leaders can apply lessons from strategic alliances in other industries to enhance college and university’s financial sustainability and competitive positioning—responding to the public demand to educate more students at lower cost without sacrificing quality. Thomas explores models of strategic alliances that find a “sweet spot” between common higher education consortia and full institutional mergers.

Here, James Martin and James E. Samels, explain their latest book, Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities: New Strategies for Higher Education Leaders, published by Johns Hopkins University Press earlier this year.

In the following Q&A with  John O. Harney,  executive editor of NEBHE's New England Journal of Higher Education, the authors share their findings and explore some of the key reasons that more New England colleges and universities are now considering partnerships, co-ventures, and even mergers as strategic options.

Harney: Why do you believe now is the right time for this book?

Martin and Samels: "Simply said, it is increasingly difficult to ignore the many news flashes, press releases and higher ed conversations focused on institutional partnerships, mergers and closures. Here in New England with some of our states offering, per-capita, the largest number of colleges and universities in the nation, there are too many colleges for too few students. We believe that this region will continue to see a rising number of schools beginning to work formally toward partnerships that leverage their resources and combine their curricula, personnel and infrastructure. Some institutions will enter into strategic alliances, and some will move straight to considerations of merger. Others will decide to close.''

Harney: "Even with, as you say 'too many' higher education institutions in New England, many students still appear not to find access or success in higher education. Do you see a way to address this conundrum?''

Martin and Samels: "Yes, our book looked at this issue, and while Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities focuses principally on the leadership decisions involved in developing and sustaining new and familiar models of partnership and merger, we also explored a number of the reasons driving, even forcing, some schools to collaborate. The impact of collaborations on current and future students was also considered, as well as how faculty and administrative leaders can support student needs more effectively.''

"One recommendation would be to develop Early College programs that more effectively align students' career interests and aptitude levels with available curricula. Strategic programming in this area can help undergraduates avoid becoming lost during the critical first-year experience.

"Another suggestion would be to emphasize the value of vocational career opportunities. Massachusetts Secretary of Education James Peyser, for example, has spoken persuasively about the value of vocational-technical, and agricultural, programs, and he is candid about the need for higher education to find new ways to support vocational career paths.''

Harney: "New England is also shifting in terms of its demography. The region is aging, and it’s welcoming populations that have been underserved by higher ed historically? How could higher education partnerships, strategic alliances or even mergers effectively engage these groups that have not participated fully in higher ed?''

Martin and Samels: "As a start, public and private colleges could jointly dedicate more time and resources to defining their audiences and developing new programs, degree and otherwise, to address their needs.

"As one example, New England is currently experiencing a surge in the growth of the number of Latino students, and this trend is not likely to reverse itself anytime soon. In response, public, private and even for-profit institutions could formally partner, where requested or needed, with clusters of community colleges to create collaborative programs that form bridges to facilitate academic achievement.''

Harney: "Another key market is adult students. What do you think of Purdue’s acquisition of Kaplan with its generally older student body?''

Martin and Samels: "No matter what concerns one may have about this concept, we believe that it will occur in other regions, including our own, with greater frequency. Clearly, there are numerous issues that will need to be addressed, but management agreements of multiple types will begin to emerge as, for one example, a for-profit partner might allocate expanded resources to enrollment and marketing while a traditional public or independent partner could provide a larger share of the curricula and teaching faculty.

"As noted, there are complexities to work through, but entrepreneurial institutions will work through them if broader goals of mission enhancement, market share and sustainability can be achieved.''

Harney: "We are hearing more about regional 'clusters' of colleges and universities that cross state lines. What is your view of the feasibility of partnerships involving institutions in two or even three different states?''

Martin and Samels: "It appears that state lines may not be meaningful in terms of partnership and merger planning going forward. Rather, colleges and universities that share a will to innovate, a complementary—rather than simply similar—structure, and compatible student market-shares, no matter where they reside, will have the best chances to prosper. We believe that groups of institutions across the region, perhaps without realizing they are motioning closer together, are going to identify specific areas in which to partner and share resources over the coming 24 to 36 months.''

Harney: "What is the future for partnerships of any kind between public and private colleges and universities … and even for-profits in the case of Kaplan? How might they work and why?''

Martin and Samels: "In the book, we write about institutional asset transfers that can serve as "mergers without merging," so to speak. These can readily cross traditional public-private lines if planners are committed to shared goals. Colleges and universities that, at least initially, view full merger as out of the question may still develop agreements to share marketing resources, faculty teaching expertise, and classroom and library facilities, as examples.'

"The recent history of Daniel Webster College, in New Hampshire,  is in some ways reflective of the drive to partner and create larger, stronger institutions. In the span of just a few years, Daniel Webster went from being a freestanding private college to part of the ITT Educational Services Inc. for-profit enterprise and now to part of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) via a 'Teach-Out and Program Articulation Agreement.' Under this agreement, as of the end of the 2016-17 academic year, 'SNHU will accept all Daniel Webster students who meet the minimum admission requirements for all subsequent coursework offered through SNHU, 'has outlined on the SNHU Web site.''

Harney: "As you know, we have reported on institutional closings over the years, in part through our Higher Education Innovation Challenge. Which kinds of New England colleges are most vulnerable? How can they avert closing?''

Martin and Samels: "New England colleges and universities most vulnerable to closure typically:

"Are small—with 2,500 students or fewer

"Are more than 85 percent tuition-dependent

"Have aging campus infrastructure with continuing signs of deferred maintenance

"Have rising student default rates

"Show excessive family tuition debt burden

"Have spiraling tuition discount rate

"Are religiously affiliated.

''We would also add that not all institutions in the region with one or several of these signifiers is headed toward closure. Rather, institutional leaders now studying this list and acknowledging that it describes their college or university, perhaps accurately, can undertake numerous plans for success. Our research suggests that one of the most effective is to develop a strategic alliance and co-venturing plan with a willing partner institution. As someone recently described it, 'Pick a dance partner before the music ends."'


John O. Harney: NEEP sees regional growth and then massive uncertainty

The New England Economic Partnership (NEEP) explored "What’s Ahead After This Historic Election?" at the group's outlook conference held Jan. 17 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, right across the street from South Station.

Their general conclusion: New England's economy will stay robust through 2017 and 2018 ... but then watch out! (And that's just economists—groups of scientists, multiculturalists, educators, philosophers and others would presumably voice similar cautions.)

Brandeis International Business School Senior Lecturer John Ballantine opened the NEEP proceedings by urging the crowd to reexamine its "confirmation bias," noting that the northern congressional district in Maine voted for Donald Trump and Clinton won New Hampshire by only about 2,700 votes.

NEEP's frequent national forecaster, Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi, reassured the audience that the U.S. is in the midst of its second-longest economic expansion in history, including a record-setting seven consecutive months of job growth, record-low layoffs and nearly full employment. It would take a lot to derail that in 2017, he said.

The conference theme—Trump's election—is another story. Zandi was in London on election night and went to bed expecting a Clinton victory, only to take a call from his daughter in the U.S., who was crying over the results. He said he wouldn’t read too much into the post-election reaction in financial markets. Investors are responding to pledges of lower taxes, less regulation and deficit-financed government spending on the military, infrastructure improvements and other items, he said. But “there’s a boatload of uncertainty” here.

Tweets browbeating specific companies have made businesses anxious, Zandi said. And while U.S. policy since World War II has been to embrace the world, the Trump administration would use tariffs and other sticks with countries it sees as cheating. Zandi conceded that China and Mexico would probably retaliate, touching off a trade war. In addition, tough immigration standards will constrain growth in the U.S. labor force. We actually need more immigration, skilled and unskilled, he said. He added that immigrants tend to be more entrepreneurial, so immigration is the best way to increase productivity. Zandi suggested if you're in the recession-prediction business, look out for the end of Trump’s term, when some of the worst disruption (not in the current fashionable sense) will kick in.

Ross Gittell, chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire and NEEP vice president, noted that the New England economy has tracked the U.S. economy and should see strong growth in 2017 and 2018. But he too worried about uncertainty in the outer years of forecast.

New Hampshire posted the lowest unemployment rate in the U.S., at 2.5%, and Massachusetts the third lowest rate in the U.S., at 3.3%. (South Dakota, at 2.7 percent, was the second-lowest.) The New England average was 5% in 2015, down from a regional peak of 8.7% in 2010, and NEEP projected that it would fall to 3.7% in 2018. That's when things may go south, in part, because all that employment constrains room for more growth and, in part, because the Trump risks begin to kick in at that point. Among those risks, Trump's anti immigration stands would deal big blows to New England's already-vulnerable labor pool and the region'shigher-education sector,  which relies so much on foreign talent.

Different states may meet different fates. For example, Trump could offer perverse pluses in Connecticut: tax cuts for the rich and more submarines for a defense buildup. Massachusetts could also benefit from the Pentagon spending, but could be hurt by changes to the Affordable Care Act (so-called Obamacare) as well as immigration policy.

Massachusetts also has net inflow of domestic and international Millennials, said Alan Clayton-Matthews, associate professor of public policy at Northeastern University. An audience member asked why people in their 20s are migrating to Massachusetts, but people in their 30s are migrating out. Panelists didn’t seem to know. Bird suggested that New Hampshire is the opposite, losing people in their 20s who return in their 30s for a perceived quality of life.

Ryan Wallace, project director at the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine, noted that Maine employment won’t return to pre-recession peaks until 2018. The oldest state in the nation by median age, Maine is among the few states where deaths outpace births. But since 2010, Maine's population has grown by 4,200—almost all through international migration. The state had been famous for welcoming Somalis to Lewiston and other cities. But more recently, Maine stories focus on cutting safety nets. On a different front, Maine’s governor has threatened cuts to the state workforce.

Independent economist Jeff Carr gave the Vermont forecast. “I don’t think there’s been a time where we’ve been more uncertain about where we’re going,” Carr said. He agreed that 2019 and 2020 will be the danger years. Among other risks, Vermont—like Maine and Rhode Island—gets a high percentage of funds from the Feds, led by Medicaid.

Every New Hampshire industry is hiring, except government, partly because a declining school-aged population means less demand for teachers, according to Greg Bird, economist with the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies. Bird also noted a serious divide between counties tied to Greater Boston and more rural counties, which are treading water, or evenstill in recession. New Hampshire—like Maine and Vermont—hasn’t seen labor force growth from 2012 to 2015. Bird said the state's prosperity is not sustainable because of its demography and already Granite State businesses are having trouble finding people to hire.

Rhode Island had the highest unemployment rate in New England in November at 5.3%. But that's a far cry from the 9.1% it hit in November 2013. Edinaldo Tebaldi, associate professor of economics at Bryant University, noted that Gov. Gina Raimondo’s economic development emphasis includes attracting jobs from GE and Johnson & Johnson and proposing free tuition at the Ocean State's public higher- education institutions.

Patrick Flaherty, assistant director of research and information at the Connecticut Department of Labor, said employment is hitting record highs in Connecticut, though the state has recovered less than three-quarters of jobs lost in the recession. Healthcare has been a key employer in Connecticut, but is currently restructuring with hospital mergers. Also, the number of school-age children is projected to keep shrinking, while the 65-and-over age groups, especially 85 and over, keeps growing. Also a Trump tax policy that favors high-income individuals could help Connecticut's affluent population, as could the defense buildup: Connecticut is still the fourth largest state in aerospace employment … and a major producer of submarines.


Song for Europe


In addition to regional economic forecasts, NEEP counts as part of its mission providing indepth discussions on key issues. This time around, some of that focused on the economic and political crises facing Europe—not unrelated to the Trump reflections.

Jeffry Frieden, professor of government at Harvard University, explained how confidence in government has collapsed and support for the European Union has plummeted. And the economy has been suffering a long time; for some, it may be not a lost decade, but a lost generation. In addition, poor Spanish are more likely to share values with poor Germans than with well-off Spanish. And, said Friedan, if the NEEP crowd thinks New England’s demography is threatening, the labor force constraints in Europe are even tighter.

John O. Harney is executive editor of the New England Board of Higher Education, on whose Web site this essay first ran.



John O. Harney: June update on the condition of New England


New England’s unemployment rate stood at 4.4% in April, compared with 5% nationwide, according to the spring 2016 outlook delivered last week by the New England Economic Partnership (NEEP) to 50 or so economists and others gathered at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

New Hampshire posted the second lowest unemployment rate in the U.S., at 2.6%. But all New England states are projected to have lower annual employment growth than the U.S. average through 2018, partly due to the region’s aging population.

Economist Barry Bluestone, of Northeastern University's School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, projected that New England’s population will grow by only 5.5% from 14.7 million in 2015 to 15.5 million in 2025.

Turning to the spring 2016 NEEP theme of New England’s special relationship with Canada, Bluestone noted that 6% of jobs in New England depend on trade with Canada. New England’s No. 1 export to Canada is aircraft and aircraft parts, partly from GE and Pratt & Whitney. In some instances, the interdependence is striking: One growing export from New England to Canada is live Maine lobsters.

One major import from Canada back to New England is processed and frozen lobster, much of it for casinos and cruise ships.

The conference was sponsored by Brandeis International Business School’s Perlmutter Institute, the Canadian Consulate General and TD Bank—the Toronto bank that now markets itself as America's Most Convenient Bank and has naming rights to the arena that is home of the Boston Bruins, NHL archrival of the Montreal Canadians.

Bluestone added that New England output is forecast to grow nearly 13% by 2025. At the same time, ISO New England reports that the region’s power-generating capacity will decline by at least 13%, due to nuclear, coal and oil plants going offline. That means more natural gas, including via controversial means such as pipelines carrying fracked gas from Pennsylvania and ships carrying LNG from Yemen. Wind and solar power can supplement that, but cannot provide reliable, 24/7 energy for New England. And there is the question of how to get energy from the hydropower resources of Canada to the markets of New England. People in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont don’t want to see big power lines. One solution is the power lines currently approved to run under Lake Champlain in Vermont.

Bluestone added that as international flights to Boston's Logan Airport have grown considerably, it may be time for New Englanders to think of Halifax, Nova Scotia, as another viable international airport. It’s closer to Europe than Boston is.

In one of the surprisingly rare references to education and talent at the NEEP conference, Bluestone warned that New England needs more engineers to innovates in areas such as harnessing the region’s high tides for energy and desalinizing seawater for drinking.

State of the states

The Canadian theme is engaging, for sure. But for me, NEEP’s gold comes in its colorful state-specific forecasts, this time down to four state forecasters from the usual six or more. (NEEP mourned the death of stalwart New Hampshire forecaster Dennis Delay, who died in December; Fairfield University professor emeritus Edward Deak, who historically watched ups and downs in Connecticut, retired from NEEP. Ross Gittell, the NEEP vice president who usually delivers the New England regional forecast, could not attend the spring conference because of his duties as chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire.)

Independent economist Jeff Carr of Vermont reminded the audience that his last forecast was clouded by Keurig’s launch of its cold-beverage line (which the coffee-brewing company ultimately discontinued) and Global Foundries buying IBM microelectronics facilities in the Northeast (which changed the company’s semiconductor export picture).

In January 2015, Vermont reached full recovery from the Great Recession—a benchmark whose significance is still lost on some who didn’t understand the full trauma of that downturn. Carr noted that, for the first time in years, the decrease in Vermont unemployment is actually due to increasing employment, not declining labor force. He added that the craft food industry (as he said, everything you need for vacation: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Cabot cheese and craft beers) has been a key part of Vermont economic resilience, despite hits in overall manufacturing..

Most Vermont exports are integrated circuits from the former IBM plant in Essex Junction and engine blades from Rutland. On the Canada theme, Vermont approved the transmission under Lake Champlain to bring in electricity from Quebec. Carr pointed out that Canadian hydro initially was not considered “renewable” because of an existing large carbon footprint and environmental implications for the Cree Indian Nation.

In a tribute to Delay, who gave a regular “Segway report” based on the motorized scooter invented by New Hampshire’s Dean Kamen, Carr noted the irony that Segway tours have become a top tourist activity in Burlington, Vt.

Charles Colgan, professor emeritus at the University of Southern Maine, who also spends much of the year at the Center for the Blue Economy in Monterey, Calif., returned to NEEP for the Maine forecast. Portland unemployment is extremely low, he said, yet it does not increase in-migration.

Also five paper mills in Maine have closed since 2008, claiming 7,500 total jobs.

On the conference theme, Colgan noted that Canada is Maine’s #1 trading partner, followed by China and Malaysia. Also, Maine still attracts many Canadian tourists to Old Orchard Beach and other coastal spots on the “Quebec Riviera.”

Maine also has led New England in renewable electricity. Colgan told of how a shortage of oil power threatened the Great Northern Paper mill in Millinocket, Maine. Then-Maine Gov. Ken Curtis contacted New Brunswick Premier Richard Hatfleld to nudge Irving Oil of St. John to help keep the mill running. New England governors began meeting with Eastern Canadian premiers to discuss energy issues at that time, and Irving remains a major presence in Northern New England.

Now, many Mainers and others worry about tar sands being transported through a Maine pipeline for later redistribution.

Maine has installed significant wind power and has more planned for Aroostook County, which historically has been connected only to the Canadian grid. Meanwhile, offshore wind may help solidify Maine’s potential in the middle of a rapidly developing energy market from Maine to the ”Boston States.”

Bryant University economist Edinaldo Tebaldi displayed a slide, showing the Rhode Island economy is improving but not as fast as New England or U.S. The Ocean State suffers from very little population growth, and its labor force is actually shrinking. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate is almost back to pre-recession levels, but not quite, partly because of sluggish job growth in manufacturing and construction.

Economist Adam Clayton-Matthews of Northeastern University spoke about high confidence in Massachusetts. Unemployment is now below pre-recession levels, but demography is making it impossible for many employers to replace workers.

Asked about the crisis in creating homes for middle-income households, Carr of Vermont noted that it’s not as cool for millennials to live in Burlington, Vt., as it is to live in booming Boston. People go to Vermont to get educated, then move away, then come back with three kids, Carr quipped. He add that the milestones people used to reach in their twenties—marrying, having kids and buying a home—they now do in their thirties, partly because of the pressure of student loan debt. In Maine, the state with the highest median age in the U.S., the housing problem is a lack of affordable senior housing.

A TD Bank official pointed out that not wanting to lose that enormous body of aging talent, the bank has no mandatory retirement. Many older workers can work one or two days a week. If other companies would do it, she noted, that would help an aging New England.

If the trade data weren't enough to convince the audience of the "special relationship,"  panelists on Canadian innovation may have drove the point home.  TD senior economist Michael Dolega pointed out that no banking crises has occurred in Canada since 1840, compared with 12 in the U.S. (though housing markets are overheating in cities like Toronto and Vancouver and oil-producing regions of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland & Labrador are in recession). François-Philippe Champagne, a member of parliament from Québec, and parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, told the audience that looming Canadian infrastructure investment will emphasize public transportation, water and wastewater treatment, and affordable housing—priorities that perhaps should, but may not, straddle the border.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education, where this piece originated. It is part of the New England Board of Higher Education (

John O. Harney: College commencement stars; 'stop-the-bleed kits'; Granite State growth


Our old friend John  Harney, executive editor of the New England Journal of Higher Education, part of the New England Board of Higher Education (, sent along his latest NEBHE update of higher-ed-related stuff in the region.

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 Web site 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.

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?