New England Board of Higher Education

Student political engagement in New England and beyond

Student demonstration against Tufts University’s fossil-fuel investments

Student demonstration against Tufts University’s fossil-fuel investments

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

Nancy Thomas is director of the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life.

In the following Q&A, NEJHE Executive Editor John O. Harney asks Thomas about her insights on higher education, citizen engagement and elections. (A Q&A along the same lines has been conducted with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. Watch this space for more on higher education and citizen participation in this critical time for American democracy.)

Harney: What did the 2016 and 2018 elections tell us about the state of youth engagement in American democracy?

Thomas: Only 45% of undergraduate students voted in the 2016 presidential election, compared with about 61% of the general population. People on both sides of the political aisle had strong reactions to the election of Donald Trump as president, making 2016 a wake-up call. That, coupled with some intriguing, diverse candidates and growing issue activism, is a formula for youth engagement. We do not have our numbers for 2018—they will be available in September—but all signs point to a big jump in college student voting. Overall, Americans turned out at record high numbers in 2018.

Harney: How else besides voting do you measure young people’s civic citizenship? Are there other appropriate measures of activism and political involvement?

Thomas: Measuring student civic engagement is tough. In her 2012 review of civic measures in higher education, Ashley Finley at the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) concluded that although students participate in a continuum of civic learning practices, we need more evidence of their impact on student development, learning and success.

One problem is a lack of consensus over what counts as engagement. Knowledge about democracy? Intercultural competencies and other skills? Volunteering? Activism off campus? Following an issue on social media? Joining a group with a civic purpose? To measure engagement, many campuses conduct head counts of how many people took certain courses or volunteered or joined a club engaging in issue activism or attended a forum, etc.

Usually, civic engagement and development are measured by self-reported responses to surveys about behavior and attitudes. The CIRP senior survey asks whether students have worked on political campaigns or local problem-solving efforts. And the National Survey of Student Engagement,also a student survey, asks about voting, contributing to the welfare of the local community, and developing cultural understanding and a personal code of ethics.

Another approach is to administer pre- and post-experience questionnaires or require students to write reflective essays about their experiences. Some institutions survey alumni and correlate alumni engagement with learning experiences, if they have kept that record.

To my knowledge there is no objective, quantitative measure of civic engagement, much less political engagement, other than our voting study.

Harney: What are the key issues for college students?

Thomas: College students care about the same issues that most Americans care about—economic stability and jobs, health and access to healthcare, and education quality and access, particularly student debt and college affordability. They also care deeply about civil rights, discrimination and injustice, encompassing a range of concerns: immigration and the treatment of refugees at the border, DACA and, for those not threatened by the possibility of deportation, the treatment of their DACA peers; mass incarceration; criminal justice reform, racial discrimination and profiling; and hate speech and rise of hate groups and crimes. They also care about climate change and gun violence. I should note that, much like any group in the U.S., college students represent nearly all perspectives you can imagine. Right now, these are the issues that appear to be driving them.

Harney: Do they pay as much attention to local and state policy as to national and global?

Thomas: Some do, but it may be specific to the region or state. Or the institution. Around 50% of college students attend local community colleges, and nearly 85% attend college in-state. Local and state politics directly affect them, their families and communities.

It also depends on who is running for office. In Kansas and Iowa in 2018, for example, students turned out to impact the governor’s races. In the 7th Congressional District of Massachusetts, which is home to several universities, young people turned out to elect Ayanna Pressley.

Our office spent a lot of time on the phone during the 2018 midterms, and that was one trend that stood out to us—there was a great deal of feedback from administrators on campuses that students were engaging in local races more than in the past. We heard stories of local interest that often dovetailed with what was happening at the national level: local judicial elections (in the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings), state representative races (amid a number of stories about state legislatures and state power structures), along with students jumping into races themselves, looking to create change.

In 2018, several students ran for local office. A sophomore at Spelman College ran for the local school board and narrowly lost. Rigel Robinson chose to run for local city councilrather than go to grad school right after graduating from UC Berkeley. He won.

That said, students are like all Americans—they care about the presidential election more. In 2014, only 13% of 18- to 24-year-old college and university students voted. That low number reflects national malaise. It also reflects the unique barriers to voting facing first-time voters and student attending institutions away from home. In midterms, students are less motivated to overcome barriers to voting.

Harney: Do they show any particular interest in where candidates stand on “higher education issues” such as academic freedom?

Thomas: They care about student debt and college affordability as significant higher education issues. I don’t think students would frame the issue as being about “academic freedom,” but they do care about speech and expression on campus and efforts by individuals and groups from off campus who come to campus to espouse discriminatory and hateful ideas. Our research on highly politically engaged campuses revealed nuanced attitudes to free expression on campus. Students want it and support it, but not if it crosses a line. The prevailing view is that students want their learning environments to be inclusive and welcoming regardless of race, ethnicity, immigrant status, sex, LGBTQ status and religion. They do not want groups or individuals with hateful ideas to have a platform on campus. Recently, the Knight Foundation published a report that confirmed this but also noted stark differences among different groups. Only four in 10 college women would protect speech over inclusion, compared with seven in 10 men. I have pushed backagainst this zero-sum-game approach of pitting speech against inclusion. The dominant narrative seems to be that speech, even hate speech, is always protected, at least at a public institution. I disagree.

Harney: How do the New England states treat voting rights for the many college students who live out-of-state?

Thomas: For most people, deciding where to vote is easy: They vote in the district in which they live. Students who attend and reside at a college away from home or out of state, however, may also vote near campus. Sounds easy enough, but it isn’t. Some states, for example, require not only evidence of residency but of permanence or intent to remain in the area. But what does that mean? A person has been living in the area for a month? A day? These kinds of standards are difficult to apply to most residents, and as a result, they tend to be applied to college students only.

Going into effect, ironically, right before the Fourth of July 2019, New Hampshire passed a law requiring students to obtain New Hampshire driver’s licenses or register their cars in state in order to register to vote near campus. The law is being challenged by the ACLU, the League of Women Voters and groups of students. Some legislators have also introduced a new bill that would create an exception for students, members of the military, and others living in the state temporarily. I doubt the law will hold up legally, but as of right now, students will need to go to a lot of trouble to vote locally.

The other New England states are not trying to suppress student voting, but there are many laws that could change to make voting easier, such as allowing for same-day voter registration and voting, early voting and longer time periods within which to register.

Harney: Are there any relevant correlations between measures of citizenship and enrollment in specific courses or majors?

Thomas: Yes! Education and library science majors vote at the highest rates; STEM and business majors are among the lowest. Gender might explain these differences to some extent. Women vote at higher rates than men, and fields that are dominated by women are likely to have higher voting rates. But that’s not the entire story. Education students study the historic and essential relationship between education and a strong democracy. The U.S. supports a public education system so that its citizens will be informed and prepared to participate in democracy. Both education and library sciences have a clear public purpose. This doesn’t mean that STEM and business fields do not have a public purpose. They do. But I am not sure the curriculum is designed to teach the public relevance of that field.

Harney: Are college students and faculty as “liberal” as “conservative” commentators make them out to be?

Thomas: Studies of college professors demonstrate that, overall, faculties lean liberal. In some fields like economics, they lean conservative, but overall, the professoriate is progressive. But that does not lead to “liberal indoctrination,” contrary to media reports or unique and inflammatory stories tracked by self-appointed watchdogs. Students do not arrive at college without opinions, nor are they easily manipulated. There is no evidence that students move left politically in college. Indeed, according to a recent study, college exposes students to new viewpoints and teaches them how to think, not what to think.

In our research on highly politically engaged campuses, we found that professors want students to think critically about their own perspectives, not just the perspectives of those with whom they disagree. They assign students projects in which the students must advocate for a position not aligned with their own. They teach using the Socratic method or discussion-based teaching to draw out multiple perspectives on an issue. They get students to work in groups reflecting diverse ideologies and lived experiences. If they do not hear a more conservative perspective expressed, they will introduce it. Do they sometimes take a stand on a political issue, like climate change or civil rights? Yes, but that’s the job. The job is not to be apolitical. Professors can’t cross the line into partisanship by telling students which candidate or party to support. But they can, and should, teach students to think critically about and even take a stand on political problems and solution.

Harney: What are ways to encourage “blue state” students to have an effect on “red-state” politics and vice versa?

Thomas: For better or worse, political polarization is a strong motivator for activism and voting. Young voters believe that they can make a difference and that government can solve public problems. I am confident that energy will continue through 2020.

I worry, however, that other forces like gerrymandering, money in politics, and the way politicians now cater to their “base” rather than all their constituents, will reinforce distrust in our political system. Many Americans believe that their vote doesn’t count or that their elected representatives do not represent them or their views. This leads them to ask, “why bother?”

Unfortunately, they may be right. In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court once again rejected efforts to stop partisan gerrymandering, leaving the drawing of districts to state legislators. Many state legislatures (both red and blue) gerrymander their districts to ensure dominance of their party. It is unlikely that politicians will voluntarily give up that power.

What’s the solution? One way to fix this problem is to get people to force their legislators to appoint nonpartisan redistricting commissions. In most states west of the Mississippi, residents can force a change to laws or state constitutions through ballots or referenda. Massachusetts is the only New England state that allows citizen-initiated statutes and amendments to the state constitutions. In 2018, voters in Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, Utah and Ohio passed initiatives to end partisan gerrymandering.

Young people can do the same on issues such as money in politics and extremism in policymaking. Educators should teach about these issues. Remember the old civics courses that taught “how a bill becomes a law?” Let’s resurrect that in college through experiential learning.

Harney: What role does social media play in shaping engagement and votes?

Thomas: Social media plays a significant role in shaping participation by young people. It’s how they get their news and information, find groups and people who care about their issues, and communicate with their peers. At its best, political engagement is a collective, and even social, act. Social media facilitates that.

The downside to social media, however, is misinformation and fake news. Manipulation through social media is a frightening truth. Colleges and universities should teach all students how to distinguish facts and fiction and to identify reliable news sources.

Harney: What do you think of an idea broached in NEJHE about ranking colleges based on the percentage of their students who vote?

Thomas: Some voter competitions compare basic voting rates; others compare election-to-election improvement. I have mixed feelings about using voting rates to compare one institution to another.

On one hand, voter competitions generate enthusiasm. They can be fun, and our research suggests that activities around elections should be spirited and celebratory. Again, engagement, including voting, is a social act. Students vote if their friends vote. Competitions can draw diverse groups to an activity, not unlike sporting events.

On the other hand, voting rates need to be critically examined. We know who the more likely voters are and what predicts voting: gender (women vote at higher rates), age (older people vote at higher rates), race (white, and some years, black Americans vote at higher rates), and affluence (wealthy people vote at higher rates). External factors also affect voting: Is it a battleground state or is student voting suppressed? Competitions will be won by institutions that admit older, affluent white women in states with same-day registration and voting.

The better approach is to calculate expected voting rates for a campus and then compare their actual with the expected, and then recognize campuses that overperform. We’re working on that, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Student populations and voting conditions change every election. We’ll keep watching this.

We published a set of recommendations for colleges and universities interested in fostering student learning for and participation in democracy, actions that we believe will positively impact voting rates. I’d prefer to see a system that recognizes colleges and universities for how well they educate students about their responsibilities in a participatory democracy. Voting would be a factor, but it would not be the only factor.

Harney: How will New England’s increased political representation of women and people of color affect real policy?

Underrepresentation has been a serious problem in this country for a long time. According to the Reflective Democracy Campaign, white men make up 30% of the U.S. population and 62% of elected officials, while women of color make up 20% of the population and only 4% of elected officials. Practices like gerrymandering, special-interest money, how campaigns get funded, the power of incumbents and so forth allow leaders of political parties to serve as gatekeepers to perpetuate underrepresentation. While we saw historic shifts in 2018, we have a long way to go.

We have a partisan divide in this country that cannot be ignored. Fully 71% of Republican elected officials are white men, compared with 44% of Democrats. Only 3% of Republican leaders are people of color, compared with 28% of Democratic leaders. The historic shifts in 2018 reflect shifts in the Democratic party, not the Republican party.

Today, many politicians do not even pretend to represent people other than “their base” of die-hard supporters. They do not need to. The party in power sets their positions on issues and remains unmoved because they face no consequences for ignoring dissenters or opinion polls. It’s a maddening situation.

So, in answer to your question, increased political representation of women and people of color should affect policy, but the systems need to change to ensure that will happen.

Harney: How can colleges and universities work together to bolster democracy?

We need an industry-wide effort to increase education for the democracy we want, not the one we have. Regardless of their discipline, students need to learn the basics of our Constitutional democracy—how the government is structured, how elections work, how decisions are made and separation of power, and not just rights but responsibilities of people who a fortunate enough to live in a democracy.

I am deeply concerned by a 2019 publication by the Baker Center at Georgetown University that reports that nearly one-third of young Americans feel that living under non-democratic forms of government (e.g., military state or autocratic regime) would be equally acceptable to living in a democracy. That suggests to me a need for an educational response at the K-12 and higher education level.

But it also points to the need for systemic reform. Colleges and universities not only need to teach what a strong democracy looks like and why students have a responsibility to work for democracy’s health and future, but also need to enable student activism on electoral reform. They need to teach students how to run for office or how to effectuate policy change through laws and ballot initiatives. Students need to get involved in changing systems that underrepresent and disempower most groups of Americans. As I mentioned earlier, young people care deeply about equal opportunity and equity, along with other issue advocacy. The academy’s opportunity is now. It’s time to seize it.

Jeffrey Roy/Edward Lambert Jr.: Listen to Lowell students on expanding vocational opportunities

School outside building-2.jpg

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

A shared challenge for our higher education institutions and employers is the large number of students graduating high school unprepared for success in college and the workforce. It leads to lower-than-acceptable college completion rates, particularly for our most disadvantaged youth, and a broken workforce pipeline that threatens economic growth and opportunity.

The lack of skilled workers to fill open positions is a growing concern for our economy. The talent search firm Korn Ferry has estimated that the U.S. could face a deficit of 6.5 million highly skilled workers by 2030, and the skills gap could cost the country $1.75 trillion in revenue by that same year. More important, our failure to better connect k-12 education to college and workforce success translates into lost opportunities for students. Put simply, we need to do more to help young people seize the many excellent opportunities our economy creates.

A proposal we have introduced and are championing in Massachusetts aims to do just that. House Bill 567 would expand opportunities for high school students to earn industry-recognized credentials (IRCs) that data confirm are of high employment value. The proposal will fuel a diverse, highly skilled workforce pipeline that is the engine of growth and prosperity and provides students with opportunities for upward mobility.

Many students in our vocational technical schools are already earning IRCs in information technology, welding, construction, healthcare and other fields. We can and should make these available to students in our traditional high schools as well. IRCs certify the student’s qualifications and competencies and are often “stackable,” meaning they can be accumulated over time to build the student’s qualifications to pursue a career pathway or another postsecondary credential. Some IRCs also earn the student college credit.

For students going directly into the workforce from high school and for those who enter but never complete college, credentials can be the difference between low-wage positions and better paying jobs that offer opportunities for growth. Earning credentials in high school can also lead to stronger preparation for higher education. Students who earn them are exposed to career pathways before entering college and deciding on a major. In Florida, students earning credentials in high school were more likely to take Advanced Placement or dual-enrollment courses and to go to college.

We heard from students at Greater Lowell Technical High School in Massachusetts who have earned multiple web development, programming and IT credentials that having those credentials will help them secure the higher paying jobs they need to help them afford their college education and in the fields they plan to ultimately pursue.

Our legislative proposal would require the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development to provide the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with an annual list of high-need occupations that require an industry-recognized credential, ranked by employment value. The top 20% of the list will be credentials that lead to occupations with annual wages at 70% of average annual wages in the Commonwealth. The idea is to ensure we’re sending the right signals to schools and students about where the opportunities lie. The district would get a financial award for each student who earns a credential that has high employment value, is recognized by higher education institutions and addresses regional workforce demands identified by the local MassHire Workforce Board. To ensure that all districts have equal opportunity to participate, the bill includes start-up funding for implementation to encourage less well-resourced districts to get the programs up and running. The funds can support teacher training or cover assessment costs or equipment needs.

This proposal dovetails and complements several state and regional initiatives already underway, including the New England Board of Higher Education’s High Value Credentials for New England initiative launched last summer that is identifying high-value credentials in key growth industries and making that information more easily accessible to the public. The ultimate goal is to enable students to make informed decisions about their course of study and future employment opportunities.

Several other states have adopted similar incentive strategies or integrate credentials into the school curriculum and career preparation activities like work-based learning and internships. In Ohio, students can earn industry-recognized credentials in one of 13 career fields with a choice of more than 250 in-demand credentials. Students in any district can sign up for an industry-recognized credential course. Florida, Wisconsin and Louisiana provide a financial incentive such as the one we propose. Students enrolled in the program in Florida demonstrated higher GPAs, graduation rates and postsecondary enrollment rates.

Massachusetts can provide these important opportunities to students in our traditional and comprehensive high schools by providing the right incentives to our schools. It is an important step in addressing our urgent need for a highly skilled workforce and ensuring our education system is creating pathways to economic opportunity and success.

Jeffrey Roy is a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and chairs the Joint Committee on Higher Education and the Legislature’s Manufacturing Caucus. Edward Lambert Jr. is executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.

Neeta Fogg/Paul Harrington/Ishwar Khatiwada: Measuring the GEAR UP program for R.I. students

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

‘The federally financed GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program) was organized two decades ago with the purpose of increasing high school completion and college enrollment among low-income students. The College Crusade of Rhode Island’s GEAR UP program was designed as a long-term effort to buttress student success by providing various kinds of educational and social service supports beginning in the sixth grade and continuing through high school completion.

Back in 2015, the authors completed the first study in the nation that measured the net impact study of a GEAR UP program. That study track a cohort of entering sixth-graders who participated in the College Crusade GEAR UP program relative to a comparison group selected with the rigorous Propensity Score Matching (PSM) method that creates a comparison group with traits equivalent to the participant group at the time of sixth grade entry into the program. This baseline equivalency at the time of program entry means that differences in outcomes that occur between the participant and matched comparison groups are attributable to participation in the GEAR UP program.

That longitudinal impact study found substantial and statistically significant gains for a single cohort of GEAR UP program participants relative to the comparison group on the likelihood of completing high school on time and immediately enrolling in college in the fall following high school completion, providing evidence that the College Crusade of Rhode Island was able to substantially improve these two important educational outcomes of GEAR UP participants.

While high school completion and college enrollment have remained high priorities for the nation’s education system, in recent years, much greater attention has been focused on college retention and completion. This raises the question about the lasting effects of participation in the College Crusade’s GEAR UP program. Do the gains that the program provided in the sixth through 12th grades persist for participants once enrolled in college? At the time that these cohorts of students were participating in the College Crusade GEAR UP program, participants who were enrolled in college did not receive any systematic support from the College Crusade. This created the opportunity for us to examine whether the sizable impacts of GEAR UP participation in middle school and high school persist beyond high school completion and immediate college enrollment or do they fade out after entry into college.

Enough time has now elapsed for three cohorts of College Crusade GEAR UP participants to have completed their first year of college, providing an opportunity to measure the impact of participation in the College Crusade GEAR UP program beyond initial college enrollment.

The effects of participation in the College Crusade GEAR UP program are cumulative; that is, we found that the program was able to increase the likelihood of on-time grade attainment for participants relative to the matched comparison group for each year after initial enrollment in the sixth grade. The cumulative effects of these positive outcomes in each successive year for participants relative to comparison group students become quite sizable as students progress from middle school to college.

The chart below illustrates the divergent educational pathways of College Crusade participants and their matched comparison group counterparts. Beginning in the eighth grade, a gap emerges between participants and comparison group students in the likelihood of staying on track; and the size of this gap continues to grow in each successive grade/year. By the time of high school graduation, the gap had grown to 9.3 percentage points in favor of GEAR UP participants; 77% of the three cohorts of participating students had graduated from high school on time compared with just 67% of their counterparts in the matched comparison group. During the fall term following their expected on-time high school graduation, 56% of the three sixth grade participant cohorts had enrolled in college, compared with 42% of the three 6th grade comparison group cohorts.

Eight years after the beginning of sixth grade when these three cohorts of participants had enrolled in the College Crusade GEAR UP program, 40% had returned to college after the freshman year, relative to 30% among their matched comparison group counterparts.

This means that the cumulative impact of the College Crusade’s GEAR UP program was to increase the relative likelihood of a low-income sixth grader in Rhode Island to progress through middle and high school and complete a year of college by 35%.

The Pathway from Sixth Grade to One Year of College Retention, Combined Sixth Grade Cohorts, 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10


These findings reveal that the College Crusade’s GEAR UP program had a cumulative effect that reached beyond its formal goals of high school completion and college enrollment. The cumulative gains for participants relative to the comparison group increased each year though high school graduation and college entry. Beyond that, despite no formal GEAR UP services for participants once enrolled in college, the gains to their earlier participation in the program continued. No evidence of a fade out of the substantial positive effects of GEAR UP participation is found one year after participants had exited the program.

The first year results are promising, but the kinds of obstacles to degree attainment that low-income college students confront are associated with complex academic, social and financial issues that are somewhat different from the barriers that these students face in completing high school and initially enrolling in college Will these cumulative one-year college retention gains persist through college completion with no fade out effects? Stay tuned.

Neeta Fogg is research professor at the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University. Paul Harrington is director of the center. Ishwar Khatiwada is an economist there.

These findings reveal that the College Crusade’s GEAR UP program had a cumulative effect that reached beyond its formal goals of high school completion and college enrollment. The cumulative gains for participants relative to the comparison group increased each year though high school graduation and college entry. Beyond that, despite no formal GEAR UP services for participants once enrolled in college, the gains to their earlier participation in the program continued. No evidence of a fade out of the substantial positive effects of GEAR UP participation is found one year after participants had exited the program.

The first year results are promising, but the kinds of obstacles to degree attainment that low-income college students confront are associated with complex academic, social and financial issues that are somewhat different from the barriers that these students face in completing high school and initially enrolling in college Will these cumulative one-year college retention gains persist through college completion with no fade out effects? Stay tuned.

Neeta Fogg is research professor at the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University. Paul Harrington is director of the center. Ishwar Khatiwada is an economist there.

Stephanie M. McGrath: N.E. colleges -- falling enrollments, higher tuitions

Presque Isle, Maine, site of the most remote state university campus in New England.

Presque Isle, Maine, site of the most remote state university campus in New England.

From the New England Journal of Higher Education, a service of the New England Board of Higher Education (

Tuition and fees across New England have risen by 16 percent ($734) at community colleges and 10 percent ($1,001) at four-year public institutions since 2012-13, according to NEBHE’s 2017-18 Tuition and Fees Report.

The report, published annually by NEBHE’s Policy & Research team, takes an in-depth look at the tuition and required fees published by public two- and four-year postsecondary institutions across New England. It explores emerging trends by providing a historical analysis of tuition and fees in the region to shed light on college prices, as well as legislative and institutional initiatives that seek to address affordability challenges.

In New England and across the U.S., it has never been more critical to hold a postsecondary credential to be able to fully participate in the workforce and earn a sustainable wage. Roughly 90 percent of the jobs available in four of the nation’s five fastest growing occupational clusters require some form of education beyond high school, according to research at the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce. The same study estimates that 63 percent of all jobs available nationwide in 2018 require a postsecondary degree. As a result, employers will need approximately 22 million new employees with a postsecondary degree.

However, in recent years the cost of a college degree has risen precipitously resulting in rising tuition and fee charges–often prohibitively expensive for far too many Americans to attend college. As postsecondary education becomes increasingly important for the vitality of New England’s economy and its workforce, the growing cost of higher education has garnered substantial critical attention from the public and from policymakers. New England’s public colleges continue to be the most affordable and financially accessible option for most individuals in the region. Their primary mission is to serve their state’s residents. Tuition and fees at public colleges are of particular interest to both students and state policymakers.

Among other key findings in the NEBHE report:

  • From 2015 to 2016, enrollment at New England’s public colleges and universities declined by 1.8 percent, or 8,036 fewer undergraduates — a trend that is expected to continue in years to come due to a projected 14 percent decline in the number of new high school graduates in New England by 2032.

  • On average, in 2017-18, the federal Pell Grant covers approximately 49 percent of tuition and fees at four-year institutions for students in the lowest income quintile ($0-$30,000 annual household income).

  • Since 2012-13, increases in tuition and fees at New England’s two-year colleges (16 percent) and four-year institutions (10 percent) have outpaced increases in the maximum Pell Grant (6.25 percent), leaving a widening gap for low- and moderate-income families to offset with additional aid and/or family resources.

These trends are putting pressure on institutions and systems to find creative solutions to ensure that college is affordable for students, maintain enrollment and meet the needs of regional employers, who increasingly demand workers with postsecondary credentials.

In Massachusetts, a state known for its high in-state tuition prices, Gov. Charlie Baker announced in his 2018 State of the Commonwealth Address that the Bay State will increase college scholarship funding by $7 million so that the state’s lowest-income community college students with an unmet financial need can have the remaining balance of their tuition and fees fully covered.

Connecticut passed legislation during its 2018 session to allow undocumented students who attend one of its public colleges and universities the opportunity to qualify for the state’s financial aid. Previously, these students were not granted access to the financial aid system by state law but had been offered in-state tuition.

The University of Maine System launched a promise initiative in which, beginning in fall 2018, first-year Maine students who qualify for a federal Pell Grant are able to attend the University of Maine campuses at Presque Isle, Fort Kent, Augusta, and Machias free of having to pay any out-of-pocket tuition and fees. Beneficiaries of the initiative must commit to take a minimum of 30 credit hours each academic year and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA. As of October 2018, the initiative has resulted in a 2.5 percent increase in enrollment at these institutions over the previous year.

Click below to view individual state data used in the report:

Stephanie M. McGrath is NEBHE’s policy & research analyst.

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Jennifer Ware: When bad stuff comes from technology


Via The New England Board of Higher Education (

It’s an unpleasant reality, but also an inevitable one: Technology will cause harm.

And when it does, whom should we hold responsible? The person operating it at the time? The person who wrote the program or assembled the machine? The manager, board or CEO that decided to manufacture the machine? The marketer who presented the technology as safe and reliable? The politician who helped pass legislation making the technology available to consumers?

These questions reveal something important about what we do when bad things happen; we look for an individual—a particular person—to blame. It’s easier to make sense of how one person’s recklessness or conniving could result in disaster, than to ascribe blame to an array of unseen forces and individuals. At the same time, identifying a “bad guy” preserves the idea that bad things happen because of rogue or reckless agents.

Sometimes—as when hackers create programs to steal data or drone operators send their unmanned aircraft into disaster zones and make conditions unsafe for emergency aircraft—it is clear who is responsible for the adverse outcome.

But other times, bad things are the result of decisions made by groups of people or circumstances that come about incrementally over time. Political scientist Dennis Thompson has called this "the problem of many hands." When systems or groups are at fault for causing harm, looking for a single person to blame may obfuscate serious issues and unfairly scapegoat the individual who is singled out.

Advanced technology is complex and collaborative in nature. That is why, in many cases, the right way to think about the harms caused by technology may be to appeal to collective responsibility. Collective responsibility is the idea that groups, as distinct from their individual members, are responsible for collective actions. For example, legislation is a collective action; only Congress as a whole can pass laws, while no individual member of Congress can exercise that power.

When we assign collective responsibility and recognize that a group or system is morally flawed, we can either try to alter it to make it better, or to disband it if we believe it is beyond redemption.

But critics of collective responsibility worry that directing our blame at groups will cause individuals to feel that their personal choices do not matter all that much. Individuals involved in the development and proliferation of technology, for instance, might feel disconnected from the negative consequences of those contributions, seeing themselves as mere cogs in a much larger machine. Or they may adopt a fatalistic perspective, and come to see the trajectory of technological development as inevitable, regardless of the harm it may cause, and think to themselves, “Why not? If I don’t, someone else will."

Philosopher Bernard Williams argued against this sort of thinking in his “Critique of Utilitarianism” (1973). Williams presents a thought experiment in which “Jim” is told that if he doesn't kill someone, then 20 people will be killed—but if he chooses to take one life, the other 19 will be saved. Williams argues that, morally speaking, it is beside the point whether someone else will kill or not kill people because of Jim's choice. To maintain personal integrity, Jim must not do something that is wrong—killing one person—despite the threat.

In the case of an individual who might help develop “bad” technology, Williams’ argument would suggest that it does not matter whether someone else would do the job in her place; to maintain her personal integrity, she must not contribute to something that is wrong.

Furthermore, at least some of the time our sense of what is inevitable may be overly pessimistic. Far from being excused for our participation in the production of harmful technologies that seem unavoidable, we may have a further obligation to fight their coming to be.

For many involved in the creation and proliferation of new technologies, there is a strong sense of personal and shared responsibility. For example, employees at powerful companies such as Microsoft and Google have made efforts to prevent their employers from developing technology for militarized agencies, such as the Department of Defense and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Innovators who have expressed some remorse for the harmful applications of their inventions include Albert Einstein (who encouraged research that led to the atomic bomb), Kamran Loghman (the inventor of weapons-grade pepper spray), and Ethan Zuckerman (inventor of the pop-up ad), all of whom later engaged in activities intended to offset the damage caused by their innovations.

Others try to make a clear distinction between how they intended their innovations to be used, and how those technologies have actually come to be used down the line—asserting that they are not be responsible for those unintended downstream applications. Marc Raibert, the CEO of Boston Dynamics, tried to make that distinction after a video of the company’s agile robots went viral and inspired dystopian fears in many viewers. He stated in an interview: "Every technology you can imagine has multiple ways of using it. If there's a scary part, it's just that people are scary. I don't think the robots by themselves are scary."

Raibert’s purist approach suggests that the creation of technology, in and of itself, is morally neutral and only applications can be deemed good or bad. But when dangerous or unethical applications are so easy to foresee, this position seems naive or willfully ignorant.

Ultimately, our evaluations of responsibility must take into consideration a wide range of factors, including: collective action; the relative power and knowledge of individuals; and whether any efforts were made to alter or stop the wrongs that were caused.

The core ethical puzzles here are not new; these questions emerge in virtually all arenas of human action and interaction. But the expanding frontiers of innovation can make it harder to see how we should apply our existing moral frameworks in a new and complicated world.

Jennifer Ware is an editor at Waltham, Mass.-based MindEdge Learning who teaches philosophy at the City University of New York. 


George McCully: Academic disciplines: Synthesis or demise?


From the New England Board of Higher Education (

Current anxiety over the values and directions of what we used to call “higher education” has rich and complex roots in the past, as well as problematic branches into the future. A crucial and core aspect of the subject not yet adequately understood is the structure and strategy of scholarship itself, and its future.

Forty-five years ago, in the heyday of “multiversities” lauded in books by presidents Clark Kerr (UC Berkeley) and James Perkins (Cornell), I wrote an article for the Journal of Higher Education entitled “Multiversity and University.” It contrasted the two models of scholarship, and contended that, whereas multiversity academic disciplines are each internally rigorous as scholarship, taken together as a putative whole, the multiversity had never been defended as scholarship and could not be so defended, because it is not scholarship. The disciplines arose and came together by historical accidents, not by intentional, systematic, scholarly or philosophical design.

They arose in the early modern period of Western history—the 15th to 18th centuries, with the Renaissance, Reformation, Scientific Revolution, Absolutism and Enlightenment—arguably the first “Age of Paradigm Shifts” in every field, significantly driven by Gutenberg’s IT revolution in printing. Each of the various modern disciplines created its own vocabulary and conceptualization, which were based on analyses of contemporary events and developments, and—this is crucial—were exclusively specialized.

Scholarship is always necessarily specialized—it examines the world in detail. What is distinctively modern with the multiversity is that its specializations exclude other subjects—studying each one (e.g. economics, politics, astronomy) separately, to the exclusion of others, in various languages that are mutually incompatible and incommensurable. Collectively, modern academic disciplines imply that scholarship at its highest levels describes the world as if it were fragmented, in separate silos. This structure and strategy of knowledge, inquiry and education played a leading role in producing modern secular Western civilization.

Its long-term effects have been profound. Exclusive specialization was originally intended only to separate each field from religion in a period of religious wars. The cumulative effect—coincidentally and inadvertently—was that they also excluded each other, obviating our sense of reality as a coherent whole, which it actually is. This also gradually undermined authentic liberal education, which seeks self-development in wholeness of life. In the multiversity, “higher education”—advanced self-development—has devolved, as we see today, into advanced technical training—information and skills development. As such, it leads to lives fragmented accordingly—even divided against themselves. Translated into public policy in the real world, the disciplines’ exclusions feed back as problems—in the early '70s Journal of Higher Education article the prime examples were our failures in Vietnam and the deepening ecological crisis caused by technology ignoring ecology. In sum, the flaws of fragmented scholarship have inclined us to problems at strategic levels in modern culture—in knowledge, education, public policy, and personal values—owing to the unattended gaps among the disciplines.

Needless to say, however, the article’s fundamental critique raised no noticeable dust. Basically no one cared—in part, no doubt, because they had been trained not to care about the whole. But because the assertions were true, it should not be surprising that today we are compelled to return to the subject by a new set of historical circumstances and trends in this second Age of Paradigm Shifts, also propelled by an IT revolution—this time of computers and the internet.

It may help to recap the history of how and why the tradition of university or universal learning was superseded. Basically, medieval civilization broke apart as printing enabled the flood of new information in all fields in this period to be much more rapidly and broadly shared, so as to set new standards in the sciences and scholarship. The Reformation and Wars of Religion encouraged scholars and scientists to dissociate their work from the contending universal religious doctrines and authorities. The best-known examples are those of the Scientific Revolution in astronomy, physiology and other physical sciences, which became increasingly empiricist in protective isolation from Classical and Christian authorities and dogmas. The flood of biological discoveries from the New World, of flora and fauna previously unknown and thus without symbolic significances, freed “natural history” from medieval natural philosophy and theology. In the social sciences, Machiavelli gave birth to political science by asserting that the application of traditional Christian values to questions of “how to maintain the State” in Renaissance Italy would likely fail, so that to be successful rulers should focus exclusively on power relationships.

Rampant monetary inflation spreading throughout Europe in the 16th Century, initially thought to be caused by sinful covetousness, was shown by Sir Thomas Smith to result from the sudden huge influx into the European economy of gold and silver bullion from the New World. Juan Luis Vives, the Spanish humanist living in northern Europe, pioneered modern sociology by analyzing permanent poverty in Bruges, modern psychology in his advocacy of women’s education, and a secular understanding of current events based on the Stoic categories of concord and discord. Humane letters addressed an increasingly bourgeois secular society, and rationalist and empiricist philosophy sought autonomous grounding. By the 18th Century Enlightenment, intellectuals were consciously seeking secular alternatives to medieval universal values based on theology. A symbolic example is that “philanthropy”—the “love of what it is to be human”—became a central value in ethics, especially in forward-looking Scotland and America.

The cumulative result of all these paradigm shifts was the disintegration of what had been a university encyclopedia (etymologically: encyclos paideia: “universal” or “all-embracing” learning) of scholarship and culture. The various disciplines, to their credit, were freshly and hugely productive; they gradually hardened and were drawn into academic institutions. By the end of the 19th Century, they had become a standardized structure of separate parts with no integrating whole. To be sure, outside and on the periphery of academe, there were significant exceptions and even resistance to the disintegrating academic trend—by Alexander von Humboldt, George Perkins Marsh, Charles Darwin, Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, Henry Adams, William James, Ernst Haeckel and many others. The term “multiverse” was coined by Adams to describe the emerging pluralistic view of reality. By 1963, Clark Kerr coined the term “multiversity” to describe the heterogeneity of branches within single academic institutions, and lauded its intellectual dominance in American society. In 1966, James Perkins echoed his enthusiasm. The 1973 Journal of Higher Education article cited above was, therefore, a radically non-conforming view.

But the subsequent history of the multiversity has not been a continuing success. By the early '90s, Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Idea of the University: A Reexamination asserted that colleges and universities were in “crisis.” The political and cultural turmoil in academe of the late-'60s and early '70s rudely deposed both Kerr and Perkins. The business model of higher education became increasingly dysfunctional, with runaway costs mainly for ballooning administrations, declines in public funding, inexorably growing reliance on underpaid “adjunct” faculty, a decline in tenured faculty ratios, and students graduating with enormous loan indebtedness. Students and their parents have become highly critical, seeing themselves as exploited consumers buying academic credentials on unfavorable terms for short-term, unreliable job markets.

Thus, to the intellectually weak organization of learning is now added an institutionally and financially weak infrastructure, making the whole system more vulnerable in a rapidly transforming world. There is even evidence of increasing scholarly and professorial unease —e.g., the widespread increase in attempts to reconnect the disciplines in “interdisciplinary” and “multidisciplinary” studies; the AACU’s promotion of “integrative learning;” Northeastern University’s new “humanics” curriculum; Arizona State University’s experiments in replacing the academic departmental structure with integrative fields of study addressing real-world problems; and Georgetown University’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, among others.

Moreover, six powerful factors—“conducive conditions”—fundamentally challenge today’s multiversity structure of academic scholarship:

First and most powerful is the continuing Information Technology (IT) revolution, which arose outside and independently of the multiversity in the late ‘90s, and has been transforming the content, management and communication of information in all fields. Because the multiversity consists of information and depends on its technology, scholarship and teaching are being thoroughly—broadly and deeply—affected.

Second is a part of that revolution, namely, the explosion of sheer data—recorded and collected facts—to be analyzed. The most prominent expression of this is so-called “Big Data”—datasets so large and complex that ordinary software, even massively parallel systems running on hundreds or even thousands of servers, cannot manage them. Over 94 percent of all data are now estimated to be stored digitally, much of it with open access, usable by anyone, anywhere, at virtually no cost. Adequate management will require and thus evoke new technology and methods of analysis, some already existing, more yet to be developed.

The data explosion is subversive of multiversity disciplines because it comes from, and is about, the real world, which is not divided into separate parts conforming to academe’s conventions. Big Data is not separated out into silos. When it becomes manageable with more powerful technology, the exclusionary fallacies of academic silos will be further illuminated, calling into question the entire multiversity structure. Professors will have to retool their work.

Third is personnel—the huge increase and surplus of qualified researchers forced to work outside academe. Doctoral degrees today far exceed academic and research job openings. Fewer than half of those earning science or engineering doctorates gain jobs directly using their training. In the most popular fields like biomedicine, fewer than one in six join a faculty or research staff. Every year, the market tightens while federal research grants are flat or declining. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences reports the same for the humanities—numbers of doctorates awarded rise annually, while numbers of job openings decline.

Fourth is a knowledge explosion produced by the first three factors. What do these highly trained and underemployed people do with their skills? Some find gainful semi-relevant employment in industries, which are outside academic disciplinary restrictions; many take advantage of computers and the internet to do independent research, translating data into knowledge, largely freed from academic constraints. The capacity of traditional paper-printing in books and periodicals has been far exceeded by qualified research, so the surplus finds expression in many forms on universally accessible and even peer-reviewed spaces on the infinitely capacious internet. The bottom line is that the total output of research from all practitioners, significantly empowered by the IT revolution, now far exceeds the capacity of our academic and commercial information infrastructure to absorb and use it, much less to govern its content and formats. A crisis in knowledge management has already begun.

Fifth, which might administer the coup de grace for the multiversity, is future IT. The successors to today’s digital computers are now being developed outside academe by leading global corporations and governments: “quantum computing”—computers with exponential processing power (“qubits”) that are already capable of operating 50,000 times faster than today’s equipment, and soon will reach 100,000. The new technology has already run two million quantum programs to test and write papers on theories that we never before had the processing power to prove. New machines create new fields, which are not retrofitted into academic departmental straitjackets, but are free to roam and graze among the masses of new Big Data, to solve real-world practical problems such as climate change and overpopulation. This will render exclusive specialization obsolete.

Sixth is the real-world environment of academic infrastructures, which is enhancing the power of the first five disruptive innovations. Our world is transforming at an accelerating pace propelled by developing technology. Higher education is more than ever held accountable to the outside world in today’s monetized consumer economy of academic accreditations for jobs to repay the loans that bought those credits in the first place. A telling example is the revolution in AI—artificial intelligence—that can already drive cars and trucks and make homes and other accessories “smart,” self-regulating and intercommunicating, and that will certainly transform higher education. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty predicts that all jobs will be augmented by AI, requiring constant new learning and adaptation by jobholders. Therefore what today’s students need is not just information transfer as in the traditional multiversity, but learning how to teach themselves, with online and accessible “lifelong learning systems,” enabling constant retraining and upgrading of knowledge and skills—even (best case scenario) self-development.

The disruptive innovation of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is no longer experimental; students can gain academic credits for approved courses taught by experts from anywhere in the world, both inside and outside academe. Some of those courses are organized by conventional disciplinary categories, but many are not; they address real-world subjects and are accorded academic credits for business reasons. Other innovations—e.g., experiential learning, civic engagement—are moving in the same direction, from inside the academy out into the real world, signaling that conventional academicist categories are increasingly felt to be unrealistic.

These six factors—the IT revolution, data explosion, researchers surplus, knowledge explosion, future technology and the transforming real-world environment of scholarship—are radically more powerful than their counterparts in the first, early-modern Age of Paradigm Shifts, to which the emerging disciplines were originally attuned. Ours is a second Age of Paradigm Shifts, powered by the second IT revolution. Scholars then were concerned with the Classical distinction of humans from animals; today we are concerned to distinguish humans from machines.

We know that technological revolutions are inexorable and unavoidable; they must be accommodated. The entire set of academic disciplines, describing the world in separate parts by exclusive specialization evoked by actual conditions in the early modern period, is now antiquated and needs to be transcended by another innovative set, similarly evoked. To be sure, traditional subjects still exist—economies, polities, societies, cultures, physical sciences, etc.—for which deep expertise is always needed, but they can no longer be considered autonomously. What needs to change are the interstices. We need now to describe the world systematically, as computers will press us to do, but in realistic terms as a coherent whole—which science assumes. We may also hope our new learning will be firmly humane, distinguishing us from our artificially and massively intelligent machines. Colleges and universities, which have a special commitment to human values, would do well to assume leadership roles in accomplishing this.

George McCully is a former historian, professor and faculty dean at higher education institutions in the Northeast, then professional philanthropist and founder and CEO of the Catalogue for Philanthropy.



Stephen J. Nelson: John Hennessey, a great academic and a great reformer

John Hennessey speaking at a Tuck School function.

John Hennessey speaking at a Tuck School function.

 Via the New England Board of Higher Education (

John W. Hennessey  Jr. lived a remarkable, full life as a professor, as a leader in his field of management and business, and moral, ethical leadership, and as dean at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and provost at the University of Vermont. He was extraordinary on many fronts, a great man who lived in tumultuous times marked by world war as a young man, later as a graduate student and then professor and dean during the massive social and culture changes wrought by the 1960s and ‘70s. He was ahead of his times in ways that were noteworthy then, but now are even more so as we look retrospectively at his life. He died Jan. 11 at 92. 

Hennessey was part of “the greatest generation,” those who were teenagers as a horrific war broke out, served as young men and women, and then came home to continue college careers and get on with their personal and early professional lives. Following his recent death, an article about his life in The Boston Globe captured Hennessey’s early-on bewilderment and criticism of the many discriminations of his time.

Of particular note for him were the barriers  that many institutions, among them our most elite, constructed against women, including his wife. After graduating from the Harvard Business School, Hennessey wondered about whether attending there made him complicit in Harvard’s discrimination policies. After all, his wife who wanted a law degree, could not even apply to Harvard’s Law School. Those personal lessons, coupled with the feminist activism of his mother as a suffragette at Vassar College and a similarly inclined sister at Vasser decades later, were in Hennessey’s gestalt as a young faculty member at the Tuck School.

When in 1968, Dartmouth’s president, John Dickey, approached Hennessey to become the dean of the Tuck School, his response was clear. Hennessey's quid pro quo: He would become Dickey’s dean only if he agreed to permit Hennessey to accept women to the Tuck School, which at the time, like all of Dartmouth College, was an all-male institution. Dickey agreed and the first women came to Tuck three years before Dartmouth decided to admit women undergraduates and four years before their arrival on campus. Hennessey was graduating his first women from Tuck before Dartmouth made the move to co-education in its undergraduate ranks.

But he was by no means done with that stroke. While making those commitments for women in business, he was also actively involved both at Tuck and with business school colleagues across the country to recruit racial minorities and opening doors for them into the business and corporate world. He invented the case-study approach to teaching business ethics, led the Tuck School to growth and expansion, and was an enormous influence in the leadership and wisdom of Dartmouth.

A fellow alumnus from the late 1940s at Princeton, John Kemeny, was Dartmouth’s president, in the 1970s. Kemeny turned to Hennessey repeatedly for advice and counsel. When Kemeny left the presidency, in 1981, many a rumor at Dartmouth had it that Hennessey was on the short list of successors. That did not turn out to be the case, one might say sadly for Dartmouth. Here was maybe the greatest man not to become a college president.

Hennessey then went on to a distinguished career as provost at the University of Vermont and for a short time acting president there.

What are the testimonies from this distinguished life in the halls of the academy? What does his forward-looking leadership and vision for higher education and society say to us today?

First, we need to be ever ahead of the curve. Hennessey did not wait for the civil-rights legislation of the 1960s and '70s, affirmative action, Title IX and all the rest to animate, motivate and move him in the direction of equality and equity. It was in his gut and in his heart, and he had the courage to give voice to those principles. Our colleges and universities today need to witness this legacy and build on it. That includes issues and contentions that Hennessey would have thought  that we had conquered, yet today continue to require revisiting and conquering anew.

Second, and more critically, check your ego and your self-righteousness at the door. It is easy for those who aspire to promote change to do it with their chests out. John Hennessey was as reserved a man, as he was an intelligent and forceful leader. But leadership was not about him, and more importantly even the good that he sought to do was not a testimony to his goodness.

The Globe piece quotes him in words that stand on their own and form a coda about the life of John Hennessey. As the undergraduate wave of women of Dartmouth began to take courses at the Tuck School, Hennessey commented late in his oral history that his upper-level administrative colleagues didn’t realize the ways in which they were “being paternalistic and fatherly.” As said noted, “The idea that it can all be done with good intentions and with ‘good old boys’ simply being gooder, isn’t going to work. And you’re going to have to listen to wise women.”

John Hennessey enriched the halls of academe, the quest for the life of the mind, and for lives well-lived.

Stephen J. Nelson is professor of educational leadership at Bridgewater State University and Senior Scholar with the Leadership Alliance at Brown University. He is the author of the recently released book, The Shape and Shaping of the College and University in America: A Lively Experiment. Nelson served on the student affairs staff at Dartmouth College from 1978-1987. He is currently working on a biography of John G. Kemeny, Dartmouth math  and computer-science professor and president, 1970-81.


Training New England's students for jobs in the Digital Age

Visualization of a portion of the  routes  on the Internet.

Visualization of a portion of the routes on the Internet.

See this video from the New England Board of Higher Education ( on education for students soon to enter the digital economy.

NEBHE says:

"NEBHE’s Dec. 4, 2017 Summit included a session on "Educating Workers for the Digital Economy." Companies are looking for qualified applicants who have 'digital' skills. The challenge for educators is to find ways to integrate the current digital skills needed into the curriculum while teaching students to be agile in adapting to ever-changing technologies.''

Daniel Regan: The benefits and challenges of 'Early College' programs

Bentley Hall at Johnson State College, with the Sterling Mountain Range in the background.

Bentley Hall at Johnson State College, with the Sterling Mountain Range in the background.

From The New England Board of Higher Education (


Look around your campus this semester for some students who look unusually young, eager and attentive. It may not be, as faculty sometimes say, that “the students are looking younger every year” or that you yourself are aging rapidly. They may be students in an “Early College” program. Less evident at first gaze may be the multiple types of students within the ranks of Early College goers, as well as the challenges they, their parents and their colleges face in sustaining and navigating their academic endeavors.

Several factors have increased the popularity of these programs, though a proactive push from higher education to expand them has not been a primary one. The impetus for the growth of such programs has come from legislators as well as from high school students and their families, for reasons that will surprise no one: concern about the cost of a college education; national publicity about student debt at graduation; and questions about the quality of U.S. secondary education and thus college readiness.

A form of dual enrollment

Traditional Early College has long existed in the form of dual enrollment, in which high school students get a jumpstart on college, by taking a few courses on campus, online or at their high school (but taught by instructors certified as equivalent to part-time or adjunct college faculty). A growing trend is for colleges and universities to host full-blown freshman years for high school students, most often seniors. At least 28 states possess versions of these full-time programs, whose genesis in the U.S. traces back to 2002 with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. Such programs make it possible for students to earn a high school diploma along with college credits. The students spend their school day at college, as full-time students, and may go to their high school for selected events, services and activities.

Vermont’s Legislature passed its version of Early College in 2013, as part of Act 77, “An act relating to encouraging flexible pathways to secondary school completion.” In the legislation, one of several “flexible pathways” is an Early College Program, which simultaneously serves as a student’s senior year of high school and provides a full year of college credit. For each accepted high school senior, the State of Vermont pays 87 percent of the tuition rate to an approved postsecondary institution, which accepts the amount as full payment.

Early College has proven popular. My own college exceeded its quota in the first year of the program, and was forced to seek supplementary legislation to redirect and gain seats unused elsewhere in the state system. Our local legislators provided strong and effective support.

Who are the students?

Several types of students may be part of an institution’s Early College population. Some programs began with a specific emphasis on attracting underserved, first-generation or low-income students. Otherwise, an Early College program’s earliest recruits will tend to be academic high flyers. They are the high performers who make for happy professors and delight in their campus’s outreach to high schools. At my institution, for instance, they help account for Early College students’ consistently outperforming the general student population, at least by the measure of GPA. In a recent fall semester, for instance, the average GPA for Early College students was 3.6, while for all freshmen, it was 2.9. As the latter group includes Early College, the actual difference is greater still.

Although academic high flyers may be in the first wave, they are not the only Early College constituency. Other student participants may prove similarly rewarding, though perhaps in different ways. Economic pragmatists—some academically proficient, others less so—may also be early adopters. In this era of academic cost-consciousness on the part of education “consumers,” these students and their families know how to spot a good deal. They quickly grasp that tuition for Early College courses is generally borne by the school system, not the individual family. Good high school advisors also play a major role, helping students from modest (and other economic) backgrounds become aware of opportunities to earn college credits inexpensively.

Besides academic high performers and economic pragmatists, there are secondary students who seek a new learning environment different from the one in their high schools. And finally, there are those who simply want to get out of their buildings. Early College programs would seem particularly good places for those high school students who, after a while, grow tired of fighting identity battles over issues such as sexual orientation or gender identity. Trading a high school classroom or lunchroom for a college or university campus can come as a relief.

Building credits and confidence

That these programs are likely to succeed will come as no surprise. They convey many benefits. Students earn transferable credits and build confidence in their college-going capacity. (According to one report, 86 percent of Early College students enroll in college the semester after high school graduation.) They enhance their readiness for higher education through early exposure to the intangibles of collegiate culture: getting used to few class hours and lots of homework (instead of the reverse, as in traditional high schools), learning how to read a syllabus and how a college class is conducted, even how a college dining service works. The institution benefits from enhanced professorial satisfaction and good will in the community. An unanticipated benefit--the retention of some students after their Early College year—may be a godsend for tuition-driven institutions, in some parts of the country, that are struggling to maintain a critical mass. Even the high schools that have surrendered these students get to proclaim their commitment to individualized instruction. They also avoid the problem of accommodating bored seniors who have maxed out what their high school can offer them.

Several problems remain, however, and are fairly predictable. While none negates the value of an Early College program, each deserves consideration and may merit a concrete solution, especially in the interests of ensuring equity of access.

Costs: Parents and students will face costs that, while routine for college, will be unprecedented for most high school families. Although tuition is free, fees may attach to particular courses. Even when communications are crystal clear, in the excitement of the Early College opportunity, parents will likely ignore the fine print and be surprised by course and activity fees. College books will be an additional expense. Then there is food, during the days on campus. In my local high school, for instance, half the students qualify for free or reduced lunch; none of that transfers to Early College. (Luckily, the director of our food services recognized the problem and created a cost-effective option for program participants.) Students may have to cover other costs, too, including health insurance and parking permits.

Commuters vs. residents: Transportation may be a concern, either the cost of public bus or train service or the commuting distance to campus for students from multiple high schools. These are generally 17-year-old drivers. Given Vermont’s long winters and snowy roads, we felt compelled to offer Early College students a residential possibility.

Staffing: Even in situations where space is available and room costs are bearable, youthful dorm residents may pose special challenges to the college or university that hosts them. Certainly, these students will require additional staff time and supervision, however academically prepared they may be. Additional staff resources may also have to be expended on recruitment and admissions work as well as on academic advising. And college advisers will have an additional responsibility: making sure that students are poised to satisfy all their high school graduation requirements. “What about that gym class that Sabrina needs to satisfy state requirements?”

Balancing act: It requires a deft touch for colleges and universities to address the unique needs of Early College students, but not segregate them from the general student body. Modest steps to create an identifiable cohort would seem advisable—perhaps, for example, an ice cream social at the start, followed by occasional meetings throughout the first semester (at least). A recognition event at the conclusion of the Early College year provides a good opportunity to celebrate their achievement.

Assurances: Considerable time may be required to devise an Early College Program, complete the paperwork and provide the assurances that state Departments of Education will likely require.

Transferable credits: Early College students are unlikely to be concerned about the acceptance of Early College credits at their eventual degree-granting institutions; but if they are not, they may be in for a surprise later on. Transfer credit policies and practices vary widely. Courses accepted for graduation credit, but not toward particular requirements—which is sometimes the case—may not accelerate the pace of college graduation, which is a key promise of Early College.

Time management: Also from a student perspective, a new kind of time juggling will be at a premium: how to perform in your high school play, play on the soccer team, all the while carrying a full roster of college courses as well as extra- or co-curricular involvements on campus?

High school concerns: From a secondary school perspective, there are a number of concerns. Administrators may be understandably reluctant to lose these students. They may be giving up significant public funding, computed per-capita, to surrender some of their best students. Even teachers’ work schedules may be affected, if they no longer have a sufficient number of students to teach a smaller, more advanced class they were counting on. And beyond all that, is exiting the building any real solution to deficits in secondary education, especially the senior year?

Despite these challenges, Early College programs provide very positive experiences for many participants, satisfaction for their families, benefits to the host colleges and universities, and the ability for sending high schools to claim—rightly so—a commitment to individualized learning.

Daniel Regan is accreditation liaison officer and former dean of academic affairs at Johnson State College, in Vermont.


Carolyn Morwick: It was supposed to be a quiet year in Vt. Legislature...

The Vermont State House, in Montpelier -- the smallest state capital, with only about 7,900 residents.

The Vermont State House, in Montpelier -- the smallest state capital, with only about 7,900 residents.

From The New England Journal of Higher Education, a unit of The New England Board of Higher education (

From January to April, there appeared to be an unusual degree of cooperation among legislators and newly elected Vermont Gov. Phil Scott. The House and Senate passed a budget with minor differences. Up until this point, some legislators were characterizing the session as “boring.” All that changed on April 20, when Governor Scott proposed that the Legislature adopt the Vermont School Boards Association’s plan for a statewide teachers’ health-insurance proposal that would save Vermont taxpayers $26 million. Scott campaigned in earnest for his proposal and told legislators that he would veto their budget, which included their version of a teachers’ health insurance savings proposal.

No headway was made despite several meetings between the governor and legislative leaders. In the early morning hours of May 19, a budget was passed and the Legislature adjourned.

As he had promised, Scott vetoed the state budget and a bill for setting property-tax rates. Lawmakers returned to the capitol on June 21 for a special session where the budget stalemate was finally broken. A compromise was achieved which required school districts to find $13 million in savings and create a commission to study a statewide teachers’ healthcare plan. The $13 million will come from school budgets that voters have already passed. Rep David Sharpe, chairman of the House Education Committee, noted that insurance premiums are expected to drop by $75 million next year, giving school districts some leverage to negotiate plans for their employees while saving money.

On June 28, Scott signed the Fiscal 2018 budget, which does not raise taxes or fees, including property taxes. The budget includes a $35 million bond for housing, which state officials expect to generate $100 million investment in affordable housing.

On July 21, Scott and legislators learned that revenue for the FY18 base operating budget would be short by $28 million. A rescission plan to cut $12.6 million from the budget was proposed by Scott and approved by the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee.

Legislation Passed, Signed Into Law


SB. 79 An Act Relating to Freedom From Compulsory Collection of Personal information

Prohibits Vermont officials from sharing information with the federal government that would be used to establish a registry based on religion, immigration status or any other personal characteristics.

Retirement Plan

SB.98 An Act Relating to the Public Retirement Study Committee

Creates the Green Mountain Secure Retirement Plan—voluntary retirement option for employers with 50 or fewer employees, none of whom have a retirement plan.

Economic Development

SB. 135 An Act Relating to Promoting Economic Development

Improves the Employment Incentive Growth Program. Lifts the cap on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Districts and adds additional TIF districts.

Oversight of Race, Criminal Justice

HB. 308 An Act Relating to the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel

Voids any aspect of the Vermont fair and impartial policing policy that would conflict with federal law, requires all police agencies to adopt every part of the revised policy. The legislation also sets up a panel to make recommendations about how to reduce racial disparities in Vermont’s criminal and juvenile justice system.

Mental Health for Minors

HB 230 An Act Relating to Consent by Minors for Mental Health Treatment

Allows LGBTQ teens to seek counseling to discuss their sexual orientation without their parents’ approval.

Legislation That Failed


SB. 22 An Act Relating to Eliminating Penalties for Possession of Limited Amounts of Marijuana by Adults 21 Years of Age and Older

A last-minute compromise passed by lawmakers legalized the recreational use of marijuana. The governor subsequently vetoed the measure. Other states have approved similar measures by ballot questions including Maine and Massachusetts.

K-12 Funding

Scott proposed freezing funding for K-12 budgets.

Higher Education Funding

According to Patricia Coates, of Vermont State Colleges, the system’s FY18 budget ends several years of budgets stressed by low state support, a decline in the number of Vermont high school graduates, increased competition from New England and northeastern regional colleges through tuition discounting, and increases in health insurance costs. This year, Vermont college presidents submitted budgets that reflected strategic management of resources, which resulted in a balanced VSCS budget that realizes savings through a new, systemwide approach to business processes.

The fiscal year 2018 budget was buttressed by several significant initiatives:

A $3 million increase in the base appropriation from the state

$880,000 in state support for the unification of Johnson State College and Lyndon State College into Northern Vermont University, which followed $770,000 in FY17

$1 million in savings consolidating the administrations of Johnson and Lyndon in FY18

$2.6 million from a major debt refinancing and restructuring

Over $1 million in savings from business process efficiencies, benefit changes and spending reductions.

Carolyn Morwick directs government and community relations at NEBHE and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures. .




Pooja Patel: N.E. institutional leadership for illegal-alien students aided by DACA

Via the New England Board of Higher Education (

A Massachusetts resident, Faustina began working on her college applications last August. In the beginning, the process was going well. However, as she began receiving acceptance letters and financial aid award letters, things became difficult. As an undocumented student, Faustina did not have a permanent residency card, which most colleges need in order to provide financial aid. Unwavering in her efforts to pursue a higher education, Faustina hoped to receive financial support from private institutions but, often, they could not meet her need.

As a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiary, Faustina was ineligible for federal financial aid and, in most cases, state financial aid. Signed under the Obama administration, DACA grants a working permit to those who entered the U.S. before age 16, allowing students to enroll at institutions of higher education and join the military. This month,  the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly, said that the DACA program would remain in effect, however, the long-term viability of the program remains unknown. While DACA allowed students like Faustina to come out of the shadows and apply to college, there is a long way to go to ensure that all academically qualified students have access to a quality and affordable higher education.

Undocumented students are ineligible for federal financial aid programs such as the Pell Grant, work study and government loans. As a result, these students rely almost exclusively on state support. Twenty states offer some form of financial aid to undocumented students, and most extend in-state tuition to undocumented students.

Nationally, six states provide both in-state tuition and state financial aid. In New England, only two states offer financial support. Connecticut and Rhode Island extend in-state tuition to undocumented students if they meet certain criteria such as having attended a state high school for two or more years and graduated. Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Mark Ojakian has taken a personal interest in the matter. “We support all students’ educational goals and dreams, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because investing in all our students improves the sustainability of our communities and the economic competitiveness of our state.”

Legislative action in New England

In Connecticut, the Higher Education and Employment Advancement committee, chaired by state Rep. Gregg Haddad (D.-Mansfield), has introduced An Act Equalizing Access To Student-Generated Financial Aid, HB 7000. The bill allows students to have equal access to institutional financial aid regardless of immigration status. “Institutional financial aid” includes tuition waivers, tuition remissions, grants for educational expenses and student employment.

“The dreamers [undocumented students] themselves have been pushing this [legislation],” according to Haddad. Members of the CT Students for the Dream—an organization devoted to advocating for the rights of undocumented student—have played a crucial role in propelling the legislation, Haddad said. “They’re here, they have study-ins in the capital. They lobby extensively. They are unbelievably unafraid to identify themselves as undocumented residents.”

In addition to the students, “institutions in Connecticut have reacted so differently than institutions elsewhere” reported Haddad. For instance, in fall 2016, Eastern Connecticut State University admitted the first cohort of Opportunity Scholars. These scholars come from seven “locked-out” states—states that deny in-state tuition and, in some cases, bar undocumented students from enrolling—as well as 13 different countries. According to Eastern President Elsa Núñez, “no public funds are being used to support Eastern’s Dreamers, and no in-state students are being denied admission because of the program.” Instead, the 42 scholars in the cohort, in addition to five DACA students from Connecticut, are being funded by the Dream.US Scholarship program. In regard to continuing the program, “applications are already being accepted for fall 2017, and Eastern will likely enroll another 75 Opportunity Scholars,” according to Núñez.

There is a moral and an economic imperative to Connecticut’s support of undocumented students. The state faces a major budget deficit and struggles with the lack of an urban center that draws young people, putting the state’s vitality at risk. Therefore, Connecticut hopes to attract young people of all backgrounds.

While the leadership of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, and Eastern in particular, is admirable, more needs to be done at the legislative level to ensure that undocumented students have access to affordable education. HB 7000 is a step in the right direction but its future remains uncertain. The bill did not come to a vote during the 2017 legislative session but Haddad hopes to bring the bill back when the Legislature reconvenes. As Haddad continues to persist, Massachusetts state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-2nd Suffolk District) hopes to pave new ground in her state.

Massachusetts has the highest number of DACA beneficiaries in  New England region, with 7,258 individuals benefiting from the executive action. Still, Massachusetts has not passed legislation extending in-state tuition. Aiming to change the status quo, Chang-Diaz introduced An Act Providing Access To Higher Education For High School Graduates In The Commonwealth, S. 669.

The bill extends in-state tuition and eligibility for state-funded financial assistance to any person who has attended high school in the Commonwealth for three or more years and has graduated from high school or has a General Equivalency Diploma (GED), with stipulations such as providing an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) in lieu of a social security number and signing an affidavit stating that the person has applied or will apply for citizenship or legal permanent residence within 120 days of eligibility. If passed, this bill would remove a major financial barrier to higher education for undocumented students, allowing them to enroll at a Massachusetts public institution with a more affordable price tag.

Survey results

To better understand undocumented students’ access to affordable higher education in the region, the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) conducted a survey of undergraduate institutions in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Out of 144 bachelor's-degree granting institutions in these three states, 50 institutions responded to the survey. The majority of the survey respondents were 4-year private, nonprofit institutions followed by 2-year public and 4-year public institutions, respectively.

Of the institutions that responded, 72 percent reported admitting undocumented students in the 2015-16 admission cycle. Although because of the response rate, the results overall have no statistical significance, the responses reveal a broad range of attitudes toward undocumented students.

Three 2-year public institutions admitted between 1-9 undocumented students in the 2015-16 admission cycle with one institution admitting more than 20 undocumented students. Given the financial challenges facing this group of students, this trend is not altogether surprising. Undocumented students tend to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and 2-year public institutions often provide a more affordable education than other alternatives. Comparatively, 11 4-year nonprofit private institutions admitted between 1-9 students and one reported admitting 10-19 students. Again, given the financial constraints facing this particular group of students, a 4-year nonprofit is more likely to offer them the financial support they need than a 4-year public institution.

Of the institutions that responded to the survey, the majority do not identify or track undocumented students (Figure 2). For institutions that do identify these students, they use a wide array of classifications ranging from “domestic student” to “non-eligible non-citizen” to being designated as a part of a “cohort.” One institution tracks these students as “DACA eligible” for in-state tuition purposes.

Forty-six percent of the institutions that answered the survey said that they provide resources specifically designated for undocumented students such as legal aid, student organizations focused on immigration and staff members whose mission is to support undocumented students. One institution formed an “Undocumented Student Task Force” focused on identifying barriers and developing solutions. Another—a private institution located in Massachusetts—created a list of alumni who are willing to offer legal and social service support to undocumented students and their immediate family members.

This institution also fully covered undocumented students’ health insurance. Due to strong institutional support, the net cost of yearly attendance for the undocumented students was between $1 and $4,999. However, not all institutions have the resources to be able to serve undocumented students in this capacity. For instance, another private institution in Massachusetts reported admitting undocumented students and providing financial aid of $35,000 or more but the net cost for the student was still $20,000 or higher.

Of the responding institutions that admitted undocumented students, 52 percent reported providing financial aid. Financial aid in this case includes in-state tuition, grants or scholarship. A majority of colleges and universities offer institutional grants and scholarships, with some in Connecticut and Rhode Island relying on in-state tuition. Both responding Rhode Island public institutions provided financial aid in the form of in-state tuition. Of two Connecticut public institutions that provide financial aid, one offered in-state tuition while the other provided foundation-funded scholarships such as TheDream.US aid program. Conversely, no public institutions in Massachusetts provided financial assistance to these students.

Overall, the survey results shed light on the powerful impact of institutional leadership. Absent affirmative legislation or state policy in Massachusetts, individual institutions have taken it upon themselves to provide support for undocumented students. A subsection of Tufts University’s admissions page is specifically geared towards undocumented students, stating that “undocumented students, with or without DACA, who apply to Tufts are treated identically to any other U.S. citizen or permanent resident.”

Recognizing that undocumented students are ineligible for federal financial aid, Tufts provides institutional financial aid, meeting 100 percent of the demonstrated student need. While not all institutions make information available online, often, private nonprofit institutions do assist undocumented students by providing institutional aid and connecting them with private scholarships. While this is admirable, not every institution has the financial means to support undocumented students. Given such disparities, legislation plays a crucial role in bridging the gap to ensure all qualified students have access to quality higher education.

The face of DACA

Faustina was fortunate to have the support of her school counselor. “She was determined to send me to college … you are going to college.” she said. She gave me hope which was something that I needed most at the moment.” Faustina’s school counselor was unwavering in her support—contacting everyone from her personal friends to people in the mayor’s office. Fortunately, Faustina was able to receive support from Clark University and plans on enrolling in fall 2017. Even with a college acceptance in hand, Faustina's concerns about affordability are far from over. “Now that I am about to attend Clark, my only concern is finding a co-signer for my loans. I am still waiting to hear back from scholarships but so far I have a gap of $12,510 per year which is not bad considering my circumstances.”

“I am not embarrassed to tell people my immigration status because at the end of the day, I know that it does not determine my future or who I am. There is always going to be another way to reach my goal and get a higher education.” Faustina hopes to pursue actuarial science or computer science, at Clark. “I am just grateful to get the support that I needed from people who wanted to help [and] give me a chance at life and higher education.”

Faustina’s story is that of resilience and hope. Students like Faustina are the future of New England —we need to continue doing our part in making the higher education dream a reality for all students. While institutional leadership will continue to play a large role in enrolling, retaining and graduating undocumented students, state policy or legislative action is crucial to laying the foundation for extending financial support to these students.

Pooja Patel was a policy research intern at the New England Board of Higher Education ( during academic year 2016-17 while she pursed her master's degree in education from Boston College. 

Candace Williams: Number of new high-school grads in N.E. seen falling 14% by 2032



Marker commemorating the first location of the Boston Latin School, on School Street, founded in 1635 and the first public school in what would become the United States .

Marker commemorating the first location of the Boston Latin School, on School Street, founded in 1635 and the first public school in what would become the United States.

By 2032, the number of new high school graduates in New England is projected to decline by 22,000 to a total 140,273, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s (WICHE) most recent ''Knocking at the College Door'' report.

New England’s challenge with an aging population and falling birth rates has been well chronicled. With fresh projections and an ever-changing political climate, the number of high schoolers expected to graduate in the region – from a public or private high – warrants a much closer look. So does the changing demography of the graduating class, with the number of white high school graduates projected to fall by 25%, while the number of minority graduates rises significantly

Overall, the number of new high school graduates in New England is projected to decline by 14%. Within the region, Connecticut and New Hampshire face the greatest declines, with the number of new high school graduates in both states expected to decrease by 20% by 2032. The majority of graduates, currently 87%, of high schoolers in New England, attend a public high school. However, a greater share of students attends private school in this region than the rest of the nation. Whereas a projected 7% of students will graduate from a private secondary school nationally by 2032, nearly 12% of New Englanders will.

Fewer white students being born in the region can explain much of the decline in graduates in New England. During the period 2016-2032, the number of white high school graduates is projected to fall by 25%. Over that same tperiod, the number of minority graduates will increase significantly—by 46% among Hispanics, 7% among blacks , 2% among American Indian/Alaska Natives and a 37% among Asian/Pacific Islanders.

Nationally, for every 10 white graduates lost, eight minority graduates are gained. In New England, this is not the case. For every 10 white students lost, just four minority graduates are gained. Nonetheless, by 2032, 45% of high school graduates in the region will be minority.

The implication of fewer high school graduates pose real challenges to higher education institutions, both public and private, as well the regional economy. The region’s population decline has other implications including fewer congressional representatives, who have often been champions of public higher education.

Candace Williams isassociate director of policy & research for the New England Board of Higher Education, on whose Web site,, this piece first appeared.


Joseph W. Ambash: Unionization of grad students will hurt education

The recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the Columbia University case granting students who serve as teaching or research assistants at private universities the right to unionize dealt a major blow to private higher education as we know it. The NLRB’s cavalier disregard for the complexities of a university education is breathtaking.

In a long-anticipated decision, the NLRB ruled that any student who performs services for an institution, under its control, for compensation, is a “common-law” employee entitled to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB’s sweeping decision lumped together undergraduates (who may serve, for example, as graders and discussion leaders), master’s degree candidates and Ph.D. candidates in its definition of employees. The decision ignored that many students must serve as teaching assistants or research assistants as part of their master’s or Ph.D. degree requirement, even if they would otherwise not want to do that “job.”

The decision’s lone dissenter, Republican Philip A. Miscamarra, anticipated that the strikes and other economic weapons that often accompany collective bargaining “will wreak havoc” and may have “devastating consequences” for higher education, particularly for the students who are trying to earn their degrees.

His dire prediction is not a case of crying wolf. Experience tells us that the adversarial process that is baked into the structure of collective bargaining will profoundly change the culture of campuses whose students are organized by unions. Unlike public-sector collective bargaining that is governed by individual state laws that typically prohibit strikes, the National Labor Relations Act anticipates that the process of collective bargaining will be fraught with adversarial positions that, if not settled amicably, often lead to strikes, lockouts and the replacement of workers.


The U.S. Supreme Court long ago stated that that “the principles developed for use in the industrial setting cannot be ‘imposed blindly on the academic world,’” because the interests at stake in the academy are different than those in an industrial workplace. Despite this observation, the NLRB ruled that the industrial model of the National Labor Relations Act is appropriate for private-sector campuses.

The consequences of this decision cannot be underestimated:

For the first time in our nation’s history, students at unionized campuses who are given the opportunity to teach or do research as part of their degree program or university experience will have to join a union or pay an agency fee in order to obtain their degree. This will transform an educational experience into a mere job.

Also for the first time in our history, research assistants—virtually all of whom in the hard sciences are required to engage in research and produce original results in order to write their dissertation—will be considered employees whose wages, hours and other “terms and conditions of employment” will be subject to bargaining on unionized campuses. This will transform the very purpose of their education into a job about which an outside union can insist on bargaining.


Disputes about what constitutes “wages” will require years of litigation, since the NLRB’s decision identified the stipends typically awarded to graduate students at elite institutions as wages where the requirement of teaching or research is embedded into the curricular requirement for such students.

The identification of proper subjects of bargaining will produce lengthy and complex litigation that will typically last far beyond the tenure of the students affected by those disputes. Will issues such as how many papers a teaching assistant has to grade; who will be awarded assistantships; and how many students should be in a section be considered “terms and conditions of employment” that must be bargained with a union?

The distinction between mandatory subjects of bargaining and the strictly academic issues about which universities would not have to bargain will test the limits of universities’ academic freedom. The often-Byzantine rules imposed by the NLRB on employers will now be engrafted onto unionized campuses. The NLRB has aggressively invalidated typical work rules, such as civility rules, because they allegedly chill employee rights to engage in “concerted” activity.

NLRB decisions also routinely find that employees may lawfully insult and demean their supervisors and managers as part of concerted activity. As a result, many standard campus rules may become unlawful if applied to unionized student assistants. Identification of who is an “employee” will inevitably morph into claims by unions that members of sports teams on scholarships, members of orchestras who receive stipends to go on tours, and similar student groups should be entitled to bargain about their stipends and terms and conditions of employment because they are “common-law employees.” Although the NLRB sidestepped this issue in 2015 when it declined to assert jurisdiction over Northwestern University football players, the Columbia University decision is broad enough to encompass these activities.

Private university administrators have a new, unfortunate landscape confronting them. Hopefully the NLRB’s decision will eventually reach the courts, who may bring common sense to this misguided result. Congress also may have a role in limiting the harm that will likely result from the decision. But make no mistake: This stunning decision will, if unchecked, forever change our private universities. Like it or not, applicants will no longer be “admitted” to unionized institutions; they will be new hires, no different in many respects from hourly workers in industry.

Joseph W. Ambash is the regional managing partner of the national labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips. This first ran in the Web site of the New England Board of Higher Education (


Jay M. Brotman/Thomas Carlson Reddig: Colleges thinking small on housing students


Looking at the housing and living challenges facing U.S. communities, one thing is clear: Smaller things are coming our way. Even in regions where open space is plentiful, living quarters are shrinking as more people simplify and economize. New houses are being built that are strikingly small, with some totaling less than 500 square feet, about a fifth of the average 2,600 square feet for American single-family homes. Some new apartment units are even smaller.

This growing trend, often called tiny living, is driven largely by two very different demographic groups: Millennials and retirees. Both are sensitive to the cost of living and respond positively to dwelling arrangements with a focus on shared social spaces and amenities. The broad-based movement offers a reexamination of the essential aspects of housing and home life. The trend toward micro-housing is also coming soon to a university near you.

As the national discussion about the affordability of U.S. higher education has become a pressing social topic, more university leaders are considering ways to reduce debt burdens and even tuition for today’s college students. Housing is a big contributor and often an influence on cost increases for campus life. According to the College Board, the average annual cost of housing, transportation, books and fees at four-year, in-state public institutions is more than twice that of tuition itself.

As universities are looking to more affordable approaches to student housing, an increasing number see value in reducing the footprint of housing or increasing the density of residential buildings.

This has led to a nascent movement among some innovative universities of applying unique and often unexpected approaches to housing. These schools emphasize quality over quantity and focus on creating places for activities, rather than underutilized rooms.

Examples include the Gault Schoolhouse adaptive-reuse project at Ohio's College of Wooster, where an old schoolhouse has been converted into student housing that flips the usual arrangement: sleeping areas are located toward the building interior, while social spaces are placed along the building’s exterior wall and big windows. The sleeping pods with built-in study zones are as small as is practical (and allowed by codes)—about 7 feet wide by 12 feet long—while the living rooms are ample, open and shared.

The initial reaction from parents is typically concerning, but when they see their children’s positive reactions to the sleeping pods and the added benefit of larger, well-lit living rooms that build community, their concerns are somewhat allayed.

They see that smaller, more carefully crafted and designed can be better than larger and generic. One parent told his daughter at Wooster that “she better enjoy it because when she graduates, she likely won’t have a place as nice.”

While the design is economical, green and resourceful, it also reflects the institution’s beliefs in education and residential life. “This is probably the finest, most interesting college residential space that you are going to find on any campus, anywhere,” says Grant Cornwell, president of College of Wooster. “The design fosters our mission.”

This is not to say that quantity does not matter; to the contrary, providing sufficient beds to accommodate the student population is critical. When South Carolina's College of Charleston faced the challenge of updating its Rutledge Rivers Residence Hall in order to meet code and ADA compliance, initial studies projected a 15% to 35% net loss in the number of beds. When the project team introduced a tiny living model for the upgrade, the project actually gained six beds, increasing the number from 103 to 109.

The design used lofted built-in single and double bedrooms as well as custom-designed sleeping pods to maximize space. Apartments accommodating four to six students each include a private bath, a living room and a kitchenette. In some cases, the pods are located on interior walls to borrow light from the living space—a strategy that decoupled the limit on the number of beds from the number of windows in the existing structure. Meanwhile the design team was able to program shared amenities on the ground floor that were not in the original building: a large community space, a laundry room, a public bathroom and a resident assistant's program room. The update not only represents a way to increase the number of beds, but is a model for an enhanced student living experience.

Many others have begun testing the tiny living concept, too. In 2019 the University of British Columbia in Vancouver will debut a residential project with 70 units of 140-square-foot, single-occupancy student apartments—fully furnished, with a small kitchen and a bed that converts into a desk—at about CDN $675 to $695 per month. This beats their on-campus average of CDN $1,000, and is half the typical rent for a Vancouver apartment. European schools have also led by example: In Lund, Sweden, a 94-square-foot residential unit has been tested and the pilot is now expanding to 22 units, although they will expand to about 110 square feet each. Facing a national shortage of university housing, Sweden exempted the “BoKompakt” project from legal minimum size requirements. The units rent for about $375 a month.

In the U.S., cost is just one factor. More institutions see tiny living as an answer to changing demographics and a way to be more sustainable. And as at College of Wooster, the concepts can energize student life. In fact, the benefits of student micro-residences have inspired new conversations among housing officers and university life leaders, many hoping to adopt the ideas to simply boost overall enjoyment and quality of campus experience.

In New England, the organization University Student Living has projects with efficient-sized units in planning or underway, as part of its national rollout. One project is slated for Boston University.

In fact, one way to incorporate these new housing initiatives is to partner with developers or to encourage private builders to create more compact and economical off-campus housing. These models carry advantages for both the property developers and the universities, while simultaneously tapping an adjacent market: short-term renters. In fact, micro-units can address gaps in local rental housing markets as well as for student housing. A five-story example currently under construction in New Haven, Conn., has been conceived by Mod Equities to offer fully furnished, 400-square-foot studios that can be leased for any length of time—from one day to a full year.

An alternative to options like hotels, unfurnished apartments or on-campus rooms, flexible-term furnished micro-apartments can offer an enhanced experience for off-campus students at a reasonable rent. The Mod Equities building also offers high-quality shared amenities including a communal kitchen, fitness center and roof deck, encouraging exploration and informal interactions. Some developers and higher-education leaders are looking to similar models for off-campus housing, especially when the future campus populations might swing up or down.

The New Haven project is designed to accommodate graduate students and international students who come for fellowships and other academic programs. These students are sometimes older and may have spouses that have employment in other locals and do not want to make the major move to a new city. Residents will not have to buy a whole new set of household items for their short term residence—they only need to arrive at the beginning of the term and leave when their studies are complete. They don't need to go to eBay or CraigsList to buy and then sell. In addition, for many universities have a large number of fellows, postgraduate researchers and visiting faculty who also are interested in such accommodations. As for the graduate students, the full-service model serves their needs as they will continue to maintain their primary residences.

So how should a university or college approach the question of whether to consider a tiny housing experiment? The first consideration is the demand for beds measured against the budget. Administrators may also want to consider the university's stated commitments to sustainability and reduction of energy and resource consumption, as well as the availability of land for building new housing. Last, the institution must find new ways to be responsive to students struggling with housing costs or seeking alternatives to conventional dormitory models. Not only are they looking for better and more stimulating campus experiences, but they are also watching their costs.

Jay M. Brotman, AIA, is managing partner of the global architecture, art and advisory firm Svigals + Partners, based in New Haven, Conn. Thomas Carlson Reddig, AIA, LEED AP, is community global practice leader, with the international firm Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, Charlotte, N.C. This piece first ran on the Web site of the New England Board of Higher Education (, where the overseer of New England Diary, Robert Whitcomb, used to serve on the editorial board.

John Harney: At Business Innovation Factory, inspiration, ideas and personal stories in the face of the 'isms' holding us back

Every September, I get a new fix of inspiration at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) summit of innovators, in Provide. Last week, I was at BIF’s 12th summit, my sixth.

My main inspiration this year came from Dave Gray. The founder of the strategic design consultancy XPLANE, co-founder of Boardthing and author of Liminal Thinking gave a simple message: Shut off autopilot. As he said, the only place we can make change is in the now. Problem is we don’t often think about now because we’re on autopilot.


First piece of advice then: Shut off autopilot and do something different. In an organization, he added, one cog shutting off the dance can change everything. We all talk about disruption a lot, he said, but we don’t disrupt ourselves.

Well, it’s hardly a disruption (a word you hear a bit too much in innovation circles), but I vowed to do one thing different from the past, and not write exhaustively about every speaker I heard. For the ones I left out, it’s not them, it’s me. Happens that the stories that really hit me included the starter and the closer.

The starter was Bill Taylor, founder of Fast Company. He researched his new book by seeking outextraordinary stories in ordinary places—not Silicon Valley or Kendall Square,  in Cambridge, but retail banks, insurance companies, even parking garages. He told, for example, of the “Megabus effect” that had replaced up-to-then drab bus experiences with modernized double-decker busses complete with big windows, GPS so  that it would be easy to avoid traffic backups, wifi for device-beholden passengers, seatbelts so riders felt safe and smooth ticketing via the internet.

Taylor also spoke of Lincoln Electric, an Ohio company founded in 1895 that makes welding systems and thinks progressively. In 1948, company leaders said Lincoln will never lay off an employee and it never has, not even during the Great Recession.

A sign over the factory gate says, “The actual is limited; the possible is immense.” A sort of BIFy take on the proud, "Through these gates pass the best shipbuilders in the world” motto at Bath Iron Works (which by the way, can’t claim Lincoln’s no-layoff promise).

The closer was Ross Szabo. On the outside, everything looked fine for the class president, varsity basketball player with a 3.8 GPA. But he was hardwired for mental- health problems. At age 11, he visited his older brother in the hospital after the sibling had a manic episode. Ross himself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 16.

Over the jokes of classmates, he started to talk about his disorder ... and classmates started listening. But in his 20s, he attempted suicide, began heavy drinking and experienced psychotic episodes. He dropped out of American University, then returned four years later and earned a degree in psychology. He recently developed a mental-health curriculum for college that is now used in college fraternity life, orientation and athletics programs. We need to normalize mental health, he said. “Mental health isn't for when things go wrong. It's something you build, like physical health.”

Videos of the storytellers will begin to be released starting in mid-October Jessica Esch did telling sketches of the BIF proceedings.

Among tidbits between Taylor and Szabo, Matt Cottam, co-founder and chief design officer at the Providence-based design firm Tellart, spoke of Tellart’s exhibit at the “Museum of the Future: Machinic Life” in Dubai showing how robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will augment human experience.

One example: replacing the uncomfortable aspects of airport security with soothing warm towels that can immediately be scanned for pathogens and other threats. Or automatically adding vitamin C to drinks when a certain number of office workers come down with a cold. Or building a game in the Dubai arcade that requires people to be active and delivers biometric information. Or building an algorithm that takes a 1,000-year view on environment risks, rather then the current shortsighted focus on just a few generations. As machines become better at reading our emotions, Cottam asked, will we naturally employ them to take better care of us? Will we trust AI enough to have avatars be our nannies?

New demographics

Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, noted that around 1900, U.S. life expectancy was 47. But half of American babies born in 2007 will live to 104. Coughlin credits the gains not only to doctors, but also to civil engineers, noting that clean water has done more than anything else to add to life expectancy.

In Japan, more people are buying adult diapers than kids’ diapers. Coughlin pointed out that the fastest-growing part of the population is the 85 and over group. And Gen Z people should prepare not just for five to eight jobs, but for five to eight careers. Your kitchen will be able to monitor what food you’re running low on. Smart toilets will tell you whether you took your medicine. Smaller grocery stores with lower shelves and more compact parking lots will cater to the aging, childless shoppers.

Longevity could mean a lot of time for retirement. And perhaps for loneliness? Kavita Patel, a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital Community Physicians and healthcare-policy adviser, said loneliness is the single most preventable public health epidemic today. People often feel alone, she said, but loneliness is a feeling that no one cares about you. And loneliness worsens other diseases, she said. She told of a study in Australia finding that 37 percent of early teenagers and young children say they only feel more alone when they get on social media.

 She cited the longitudinal Framingham health research, famous for its heart study, which also studied loneliness and found lonely people tend to affiliate with other lonely people. And people who are not lonely would actually become lonely if their networks were made up of lonely people. What can we do? Screen for the condition, for starters, she said. And change views. Hospital chiefs brag about private rooms, but such rooms are very isolating and presumably make people lonelier, according to Patel. Also reach out and touch people! (To be sure, that's a tall order in a society poisoned by political correctness, fear of lawsuits, fear of infection and fear of condescension.)

Out of this world

Kava Newman, deputy administrator at NASA, said she expects to see humans within the orbit of Mars in the 2030s. She believes that if Mars had life 3.5 billion years ago, then something went terribly wrong, that could teach lessons about life on Earth. (I had seen her a few years earlier at BIF when she was a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT, talking about the pressurized, skin-tight Bio-Suit she developed that gives astronauts unprecedented flexibility in space.)

Irwin Kula, a rabbi who talks about disruptive innovation, is president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership described as a “do-tank” committed to making Judaism a public good. Kula noted that “nones” are the fastest-growing religion. As disruption guru Clayton Christensen would put it, the “incumbents” are in trouble. True, 40 percent of Americans say they go to church, but observers found it’s more like 23 percent. A lot of people think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, Kula said.

We need an innovation ecosystem in area of religion, suggested the rabbi. (I had also seen Kula a few years earlier at BIF with his moving Jewish chants set to voice messages from people about to die in the 9/11 attacks.)

Stowe Boyd is a “work futurist” who coined the term hashtag. He said ism’s are holding us back.

Anywhereism is about mandating work anywhere, Boyd said. But most companies are actually decreasing square footage of offices to save money, even if many people are less happy and less productive in open spaces. Airspace, he noted, bring similar open plans, glass walls, communal table-desks, high ceilings and artisan touches not only to offices, but also to cafes, hotels and home. 

Workism and the cult of leadership go back to the fact that organizations are not democratic. 

Horizontalism suggests that a bossless organizational model would seem to liberate us, but, Boyd suggested, moving away from hierarchy without making other changes is like a mob tearing down a dictator’s statue, but not ousting dictator himself. It’s just a new business model where we become managers and the managed. 

Techism tells us that using more tools, we’ll be more productive, but we’re actually less productive.

Darden Smith, an Austin-based singer, is the founder and creative director of SongwritingWith: Soldiers. He sang and played guitar at the BIF summit. Folky, he made references to hearing Bruce Springsteen as a kid, being influenced by Dylan and Elvis Costello. But he said (repeatedly) that he doesn’t believe in cynicism anymore; he believes in love. (Never mind that smart cynicism empowered those musical heroes!)

New starts

Coss Marte started selling pot at 13, then other drugs. He said he came up with a different way to sell drugs. He and his 20 or so assistants all started wearing suits, and the operation grew to be a multimillion-dollar business. Then he got busted and ended up jailed in a 9’x6’ cell. Told by doctors that he was dangerously overweight, he started working out and lost 70 pounds in six months.

After his release, he developed a unique fitness program based on the one that had worked for him in prison. With that program, he launched a prison-style fitness bootcamp on the Lower East Side of Manhattan called ConBody. He built his own gym to look like a prison cell and staffed the operation with other formerly incarcerated people. To scale up, he then began offering online videos, where he said, exercisers can feel safe learning from a convict who’s not physically there.

Roberto Rivera, president and “lead change agent” of The Good Life Alliance, spoke of how he went from being a dope dealer to being a hope dealer. He found out he was learning-disabled, which he came to see as learning differently. Rivera started his own clothing line. Did a rap: I know you love it/freestyle here at the storyteller summit. He created his own major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison called “Social Change, Youth Culture, and the Arts.” “And this person who was told he was LD is now getting his Ph.D in education.”

As he noted, “Standard educational goals can produce high-achievers who go to Ivy League schools, earn their MBAs, join blue-chip corporations, and devise brilliant financial schemes that build immense wealth for the few on Wall Street, and chaos for everyone else. ... We want all kids on both sides of the gap to have a moral compass, to think critically, and to make the institutions that they’re a part of and the communities that they serve to be more just and more humane.”

Kare Anderson was diagnosed as “phobically shy” as a child. Classmates prevailed on her to run for student body president in fourth grade. She said she won because students had less positive views about the two other contenders (a cautionary tale?).

She is a “synesthete”—a person who sees colors when she hears sounds and that she has no sense of direction. She felt out of sync in many situations and was overly sensitive to stimuli. The upside is that the way her brain works has allowed her to help others go “lower and slower” as they become accessible to those around them and ask lot of questions. That questioning habit led her to a successful job as a reporter with The Wall Street Journal.

John Harney is executive editor of the New England Board of Higher Education.


Ross Gittell/Jeremy Hitchcock: 'Skating to where the puck is going'

New England’s economy has improved, but economic opportunity and skills gaps contribute to slower growth in employment, income and social mobility than in previous recoveries from recessions. With an aging population and relatively slow natural growth rates in the labor force, these gaps put the future of the New England economy at greater risk than that of other regions.

There are ways to overcome these gaps. Stronger bridges between education and employment (“E-to-E”) and specifically between the region’s employers and community colleges can be built, which would benefit the regional economy and individuals and their families across New England.

The data are strong on the benefits for state economies and for individuals from advancing higher educational attainment. In New Hampshire, for example, moving the percentage of working-age adults with college attainment from its current level of approximately 50% to 65% would mean a $1,400 increase in per-capita personal income and an increase of about $130 million in state revenue annually, according to the National Center on Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS).

For individuals in New Hampshire, the increase in average weekly earnings from high school graduate to associate degree is over 21% and, for bachelor’s and higher, over 50%. Even with the strong returns to higher education, the percentage of working-age adults with a college degree is not rising fast enough to keep New Hampshire among the top states in educational attainment and make up for the retirement of the state’s aging, highly educated Baby Boomers.

Nationwide, from 2008 through 2012, the percentage of U.S. adults with an associate degree or higher increased by 1.5%, while New Hampshire’s percentage increased by less than half that—just 0.7%. This is occurring while increasing numbers of employers are bemoaning the lack of available skilled workers and many New Hampshire working families are struggling financially.

Currently many high school graduates in New England, particularly from low-income families, are going directly into the labor market and taking jobs in relatively low-paying positions in retailing and services with very limited advancement prospects. They will very likely be the “working poor” for an entire generation. They will receive low pay and be the first to lose their jobs during the next economic downturn. The challenge and the opportunity is to inform these young people and their parents of the benefits of going to college and working in the region—and the consequences of not going to college. Business and education leaders have to provide guided, supportive and affordable pathways to college completion and into fruitful employment in New England.

The lack of skilled workers while many residents remain marginally employed might be best characterized as an education-to-employment gap—an E-to-E disconnect. Individuals without postsecondary education or an applied higher education skillset are not as successful as those with higher education and with their education aligned with the needs of companies that are hiring for well-paying positions. In New England, the employer needs are increasingly complicated and specialized. Employers need workers with the so-called “soft skills” of communication and teamwork, plus the ability to problem-solve and think critically—and they increasingly require workers with domain expertise in a field that they can apply, for example, marketing, industrial design, machining or coding.

But fixing the problems in the labor market and economy is more complicated than advocating “advanced education.” In Future of the Professions, Oxford University economist Daniel Susskind talks about 130 licensed professionals, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics uses a Standard Occupational Classification to define 840 different occupations. It used to be employment was as simple as medical school for a doctor, law school for an attorney, business school for an accountant, engineering school to be a civil engineer, or a community college for welder.

Those examples—medical, accounting, welding, engineering programs—suggest the value of an “apprentice-type” model with education aligned with and drawing on work experience and tied to employment after credential obtainment. And there are many examples of programs at the doctoral, bachelor's and certificate levels that continue to be effective at education-to-employment progression and are based on apprenticeship-like approaches. But what we need now are more programs developing student skillsets for which there are rising numbers of unmet jobs. In many of these, a credential alone will not complete a graduate’s training, but will be part of their E-to-E journey. This gets more pronounced as the economy becomes more complicated.

Because E-to-E is traditionally decoupled and new jobs are being created outside standard progressions, too small portion of the population can fill these jobs—and that is slowing the growth of the economy. There are many fields and job classifications that have no well-defined program or progression. Education institutions and business organizations need to partner more than ever to create the bridge from education to employment to close the skill gap and the opportunity gap.

We can point to several places where building that E-to-E bridge from education to employment has been successful in New Hampshire. In each of these cases, N.H. community colleges have been a catalyst for creating on-ramps to economic opportunity and employment. Great Bay Community College (GBCC) in Portsmouth and Rochester, and Nashua Community College are partnering with suppliers to the global aerospace industry, Albany International, Safran and GE to train workers in advanced composite materials manufacturing and CNC machining. In these programs, college faculty worked closely with company engineers, management and frontline workers to design curriculum. Students’ program work includes on-the-job experience and students have internship opportunities and virtually guaranteed employment after successful program completion.

Given the context of the opportunity and skills gaps we face, it’s clear that we need to cross the chasms. If we can tap that potential, we can unleash another wave of growth and enhance the competitiveness of the region. How can we broaden work-based education and training models beyond traditional Department of Labor strategies and other traditional apprenticeship practices to have them span K-12, postsecondary education and the workforce with a larger number of employers and industries, including in the fields of health, IT and financial services.

One of our previous education solutions was a general purpose “high school” education. The rise of high school education began with the Committee of Ten in the late 19th Century, and high schools became ubiquitous during the early 20th Century. This has been a great success as we are able to reach the entire population. The high school systems have become built up, standardized and, now unfortunately, too often exist in discipline silos and divorced from 21st Century workforce requirements. To confront our new challenges, we need to partner, collaborate and adapt. Where we all have fallen short is that our high schools, community technical education, community colleges and industry do not collaborate enough in the areas of high employment need.

The mental model is nothing new but it’s essentially a dual-education system that combines theory and practice (which happens to be the motto of Jeremy’s alma mater, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute).

NHTI (Concord’s community college) and Manchester Community College IT graduates comprise over 10% of the workforce for Dyn Inc, the fastest-growing IT company in New Hampshire. GBCC and River Valley Community College in Claremont and Lebanon are partnering with Exeter Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock, respectively, on training medical technicians. All these programs provide guided pathways from general education, to job-specific employment skills in occupations that pay greater than average wages for associate degree holders and have promotion and career opportunities. All these programs provide work-based learning opportunities such as internships and job placement And students can enter all these programs while still in high school through dual-enrollment (Running Start) courses that the Community College System of New Hampshire has with virtually every high school (over 90) in the state.

These programs are not educating professional engineers or doctors but rather  professionals, desperately needed by employers as evidenced by the thousands of openings in these fields. In essence, we expanded the high-skilled talent pool by bridging the education to economy divide by establishing educational pathways to regional employment and, in doing this, we are addressing the opportunity and skills gaps in New Hampshire.

What is required is that community college and other educators work alongside employers from industry in the design and delivery of the guided-pathway programs and that these programs are focused on 21st Century skills—those with high future need and strong career prospects. We in workforce development and higher education need to do what hockey great Wayne Gretzky attributed his success to: skating “to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Industry and community college leaders have to work together to build bridges and guided pathways that support economic opportunity, employment and income growth, and a strong future for the New England regional economy. We can help to address the opportunity and skill gaps by building stronger connections of E-to-E: education-to-employment.

Ross Gittell is chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire. Jeremy Hitchcock is the founder of Dyn, a New Hampshire-based Internet performance management company.

This piece first ran on the Web site of the New England Board of Higher Education (


Sophie Lampard Dennis: The sad decline of face-to-face encounters


Via the New England Board of Higher Education (

Remember the faculty lounge? When I began at my current institution back in 1999, there was one in every building—sometimes two! This public space—complete with industrial furniture, coffee pots smoldering on burners, and a mini-fridge with sticky notes all over it reminding people to clean out their stinky sandwiches—was higher education’s version of the office water cooler.

Faculty and staff connected, people in different departments shared ideas, jokes and snacks, and mainly people let off a bit of steam while taking a much-needed mental break during the day—often while they also made photocopies (remember those?). Many a problem or conundrum was vented, birthday cards signed (and cake shared), and aha moments with students were exulted over in the faculty lounge. NPR stories were re-told. Most importantly, this simple, open and welcoming space engendered a sense of community. I miss it.

Lately, I have been lamenting the increasing loss of face-to-face interaction. The prevailing attitude of taking care of business without having to actually get together has taken hold across all realms of society. Despite the also-growing trend toward “open workspaces,” there seems to be less and less contact with other human beings as a matter of course in life these days. “No need to meet; we can take care of that with email” has become a consistent mantra- and my nemesis—even as I imagine with dread the numbers of “reply all” to come.

Recently, “I’ll set up a Google Docs account and we can use that to upload information rather than getting together” has taken hold. I am beginning to wonder whether I should, perhaps, begin sending my avatar to teach, thereby staying in my office for the entire working day. Or more to the millennial point—perhaps a class conducted entirely in Facebook Messenger? Class attendance would probably be greatly increased!

The “mail room” where the painted wood faculty mailboxes hang on the wall in alphabetical order—seems mostly a tribute now to a time long gone wherein actual business took place in this room and people converged, if briefly. Now, those mailboxes only occasionally hold a paper phone bill—and surely, these could be generated electronically. The room is no longer a help for those looking for human contact. Even the bulletin board in this room (for those millennials reading this article, that’s a location for actual paper announcements to be posted using thumb-tacks), which at one time held a plethora of messy communications, has been left in the dust as the electronic version has prevailed (so neat! So tidy! No trees killed!).

Campus projects over the years have caused the old lounges, one-by-one, to be converted into other types of spaces. As student programming has expanded and entered the 21st Century, so has the need, for example, for enhanced labs for computer gaming courses as well as for offerings in video production and electronic music. Computers have taken hold where, once, faculty congregated. So here I am, in the comfort of my own lonely office, on a hallway of offices, in a building of offices, with nowhere to wander to. Am I more productive? Maybe. I eat my lunch at my standing desk (don’t get me started about what happened to a common lunchtime!) as I grade papers, while simultaneously receiving and responding to all mail, as well as perusing the electronic faculty bulletin and checking Google Docs for new uploads from my current task force or committee.

 The actual faces of my colleagues and friends as seen at one time in person, have now been replaced by a “profile picture”—a tiny square with a face in it- which pops up with their email. At least when I have something funny to share with a colleague, or an aha moment with students to report (I haven’t figured out how to share cake this way yet)—there is an emoji for that:  .

Sophie Lampard Dennis is associate professor of education at Landmark College, in Putney, Vt.

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 (

Al DeCiccio: A new look at the purposes of education

BOSTON I was able to hear Stanley Fish speak at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities in January 2004. Fish, a literary critic, had become dean of arts and sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)—a position he has now vacated. Fish has published widely, usually upholding the ideals of our nation’s colleges and universities in his writing. His stated aims for educators were that: educators should do their job (and only their job) well; that educators should not attempt to do the jobs of others for which they are not qualified; and that educators should not let others do their job.

Here’s a provocative passage from Fish:

"You can reasonably set out to put your students in possession of a set of materials and equip them with a set of skills (interpretive, computational, laboratory, archival), and even perhaps (although this one is really iffy) install in them the same love of the subject that inspires your pedagogical efforts. You won’t always succeed in accomplishing these things—even with the best of intentions and lesson plans, there will always be inattentive or distracted students, frequently absent students, unprepared students and on-another-planet students—but at least you will have a fighting chance given the fact that you’ve got them locked in a room with you for a few hours every week for four months.

"You have little chance, however (and that’s entirely a matter of serendipity), of determining what they will make of what you have offered them once the room is unlocked for the last time and they escape first into the space of someone else’s obsession and then into the space of the wide world.

"And you have no chance at all (short of discipleship that is itself suspect and dangerous) of determining what their behavior and values will be in those aspects of their lives that are not, in the strict sense of the word, academic. You might just make them into good researchers. You can’t make them into good people, and you shouldn’t try.''

Unless he is being playfully ironic, which is possible, I think Fish has it wrong, because I think these are the aims of education: that educators should assist students in waking eager from dreams to return to the conversations of their classes, clinicals and internships; that educators should encourage their students to share their social and cognitive gifts in those classes, clinicals and internships; that in those classes, clinicals and internships, educators should model for students how to have respect for the other; and that in those classes, clinicals and internships, educators should prepare students for transformative action.

What I want to emphasize is that educators can nurture what John Henry Newman described as “good members of society” through their teaching and the courses they develop, thereby preparing a generation of people who can help to mend a broken, post-9/11 world.

Such development can occur only if colleges and universities hold mature conversations, informed and robust dialogues that will lead to an abundance of ideas, strategies and solutions for repairing our globe. I believe in the abundance of talents or gifts that reside in our students and that we will all enjoy the fruits of that abundance on the campuses and in the communities we will all enter, refusing to acquiesce to the illusion that a scarcity of ideas, vision, ideals and character is the inevitable condition of human existence.

Engaging faculty and students

These mature conversations that educators orchestrate in their classrooms will be the preparation their students will need to engage in the public debates about the important questions of the day. How do we prepare students and faculty to hold these mature conversations? I have spent hours with the faculty members asking the following eight questions—questions that, when addressed with students, I think will be crucial to initiating these conversations in higher education institutions These questions are based on the work of Russell J. Quaglia, who has founded centers on student aspirations:

  1. How do I create a culture of belonging in my classroom?
  2. How do I try to be a role model in my classroom?
  3. How do I inspire accomplishment in my classroom?
  4. How do I build excitement in my classroom?
  5. How do I promote curiosity and creativity in my classroom?
  6. How do I promote adventure and risk taking in my classroom?
  7. How do I prepare those in my classroom for leadership?
  8. How do I prepare those in my classroom for taking responsible actions?

Attempting to answer questions like these will certainly help the faculty prepare students of character who may enter, with confidence and conviction, the various discourse communities to which they will be invited in their lifetimes.

Fish out of water?

To be fair, Fish may have a point in asking educators to do best what they have been prepared to do: teach, research, create, produce and disseminate. Sometimes, when educators allow their political ideologies and social programs to take precedence in their classrooms, they risk losing their hold on teaching the content for which they are credentialed and risk dismissing the educational needs of their students. Fish may also be following a tradition in offering his own perspective to the so-called culture of suspicion to which 19th-century thinkers such as Marx, Freud and Nietzsche contributed. In such a culture, the idea of character formation cannot thrive and will not be accepted.

Fish’s critique of character-building efforts by educators becomes less biting when one recognizes that his own theories about making meaning of texts are predicated upon a notion—social constructionism—which advances collaborative learning (i.e., dialogue among peers leading to understanding) as its pedagogical practice. In some ways, Fish wants it both ways. Fish asks faculty to nurture the intellectual life, in a community of knowledgeable peers, ultimately, teasing tender minds into thought—what he attempted to do at UIC after his tenure on the faculty at Duke. Fish surely must recognize that passionate engagement is the hallmark of the college or university. It is this passionate engagement which leads thinkers (Fish’s knowledgeable peers as well as those who wish to become known as knowledgeable peers—their students) through conversation toward community and the quest for truth and, ultimately, against that narrow perspective which curtails conversation and debate.

Roughly 2000 years ago, Quintilian recognized the importance of three disciplines—grammar, or the study of texts; rhetoric, or the production of texts; and logic, or the critical thinking ability to discern and to formulate a rational qualitative or quantitative argument—as he tried to assemble good men to carry on the ideals of Roman culture in his Institutes of Oratory. Today, in colleges and universities, we may return to these ideas and Quintilain’s trivium, even as we acknowledge new literacies brought about by technological advances, new genre studies that prepare young men and women for the public discourses that await them, debates about the environment, stem-cell research, human reproductive health and so forth.

General education and core curricula, at colleges and universities address the“greater expectations” advanced by the Association of American Colleges and Universities by preparing students for living in and contributing to a world in which individuality—human dignity, individual rights, personal choice—is more and more interconnected with global systems of commerce and telecommunications.

At colleges and universities, the curriculum can initiate this process by using reading, oral and written communication, critical and analytical reasoning, and reflection to explore the interaction among individuals and the various communities within which personal identity is cultivated. And they might advance these skills in multicontextual teaching and learning communities, both inside and outside the classroom. Educators have always accepted a responsibility to manifest hope and love in their teaching. These virtues, embodied by the professor and passed on to be embraced by the student, will help to heal our broken world.

Can education create from the outset conditions for students and faculty to engage in mature conversations about values and beliefs, maturity and self-understanding? Can it lend itself to being collaborative, multicontextual and transformative?

The engaged classroom within the “rooted” campus

National Urban Alliance President Eric Cooper points out that America practices a pedagogy of despair, particularly for persons of color and for lots of others too. Scholar Lisa Delpit writes, “When one ‘we’ gets to determine standards of learning for all ‘wes,’ then some ‘wes’ are in trouble!” Such a debilitating stance is very much like the oppressive banking approach to education that Brazilian educator Paolo Freire described and denounced almost 40 years ago: Its process involves “P”rofessors, with a capital P, depositing information into “s”tudents, with a lower case s, and withdrawing from the students the dividends of their deposits in exams and papers.

Fortunately, Cooper also advocates a pedagogy of hope, a problem-posing pedagogy in which learners become teachers and teachers become learners—face to face and virtually in educative communities of which the classroom is but one to which everyone contributes and in which everyone participates. By practicing such a pedagogy, argues Freire, people “develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation.” Surely, it will take transformative thinking to show us all how to use our abundant talents to confront the racial, social, political, ideological and cognitive challenges of our post-9/11 world.

It should now seem abundantly apparent that a college rooted in mature conversations is a community in which those in it see how much everyone has to offer to it. In such a rooted environment, educators will neither be isolated nor sullen nor downtrodden, seeking sustenance elsewhere—at professional meetings, away from their campuses, away from the persons they should be bringing inside their disciplinary circles and teaching their particular habits of mind. The current practice for encouraging faculty to revitalize themselves is to send them away to professional meetings or to provide them sabbatical leaves of absence. And these are fine and necessary benefits to provide the faculty. But a complementary course of action might be to offer faculty strategies to fashion a sustaining community through transdisciplinary programming that aims at extending to all the academy’s constituencies an opportunity to be contemplative and then to take action that will effect positive societal change.

Parker Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, in Seattle, has noted that when we allow ourselves to be brought down by a perceived scarcity of resources, the end result will be isolation. As Palmer asserts, if we can be buoyed by the abundance that results from the sharing of resources, then the happier result is hope. The rooted academy is that place where people share—through dialogue, conversation and engagement—what gifts they have and are willing to receive these gifts, adding to what they already possess cognitively and socially, constructing a hopeful future.

Al DeCiccio is vice president for academic affairs at Labouré College, in Boston. This piece is based on a talk he prepared for the opening of the 2015-2016 academic year and was first published  on the Web site of the New England Board of Higher Education (

Those deans of women

Deans of Women and the Feminist Movement, by Kelly C. Sartorius, Palgrave MacMillan Press (Historical Studies in Education) St. Martin’s Press, 2014. Remember when every coeducational college or university had a “Dean of Women”? It was a powerful and influential position, at least for the “coeds” under her charge (and it was always “her”). The dean of women was expected to provide guidance, protection and support for “coeds,” when women were a minority among undergraduates. How things have changed.

The position no longer really exists and perhaps with reason. Now that the majority of undergraduate students are women, unplanned pregnancy no longer is as big an impediment for women to completing college, marriage is less an expectation, and women have many more educational and professional opportunities than previously, one might consider the position of “Dean of Women” an anachronism, an historical artifact no longer needed.

Indeed, women are now university presidents, academic deans and widely integrated into post-secondary education at all levels. But not so long ago, that was far from the case.

Until the 1970s, a dean of women was one of the very few professional roles for women in administration in post-secondary education, indeed in nearly all aspects of higher education. To get there and make any sort of difference in the lives of her charges, she had to be fierce. And foresighted.

As Kelly C. Sartorius writes in Deans of Women and the Feminist Movement, this (woman’s) position sometimes challenged itself and its charges. Until the feminist movement began on coeducational college campuses in the 1970s, female college students had, in many respects, only deans of women to shelter and protect them, to act in loco parentis, and if they were lucky, help them become strong individuals.

While some of these deans provided career counseling aimed at making their charges able to support themselves financially, should the often-anticipated “Mrs.” degree not materialize, much of their work was directed at caretaking and maintenance of female college students. But there were deans of women who looked out rather than in, and this is where Sartorius focuses her book.

By taking a close look at the life and career of a very activist dean of women at Kansas State University, Emily Taylor, the author presents the case that this “women’s profession” foreshadowed, indeed shaped, contemporary circumstances in higher education for women. It’s an interesting perspective. Could a dean of women who was something of an early if unspoken feminist—along with her dean colleagues at other colleges and universities—prepare, even shape themselves, their institutions and their students for the enormous social and political changes, feminism and changing expectations of and for women in particular, that many now take for granted?

Kelly Sartorius is herself a good example of the influence of those activist deans of women such as Emily Taylor—women who worked within the establishment toward and with the deep and broad social changes that started only four decades ago. While working as a university administrator (in development), Sartorius earned a doctorate in history; this book is based on her dissertation.

The book itself is a nice combination of well-researched, thoughtful historical perspective, and interesting reading. (For example, how did public universities and their female students shape antiwar activism, racial issues and radical feminism?) More importantly, it is documentation of how the then-few professional women in higher education accommodated or, as Sartorius argues, enabled changes in higher education that expanded the personal, social and professional development of young women in college.

Times have changed. It remains important to be aware of how much that is the case and how it happened. This book is a good reminder.

Reviewed by Jane Sjogren O’Neil, an educator, economist and consultant. This piece originated on the Web site of the New England Board of Higher Education (