Out of the Mouths of Grad Students

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Today’s Globe has two interesting articles (one unintentionally so) on our state college system. A front page article talks about growing demand from the UMASS-Boston Student Senate to build dorms, and a Derrick Jackson op-ed is a predictable call for more funding.

But at the very, very end of the op-ed, a lengthy quote from a student highlights one of our major problems as a system (and one of the reasons that funding is such an issue):

It feels like the flagships like Amherst are treating students more and more as consumers, trying harder to attract wealthier out-of-state students with sushi nights, lobster nights, and flat-screened TVs in lounges than figuring out how to help students who are the most likely to stay here after graduation, public high school graduates.

She’s put her finger right on one of the major problems — the belief of certain schools that they need to ‘compete’ with certain private and out-of-state schools by adding amenities, not focusing on the educational needs of Massachusetts residents. We have a public higher education system operating as a series of fiefdoms with no centralized plan or strategy. We have community colleges looking to build dormitories. Commuter schools like UMASS-Boston looking to build their ‘prestige’ by adding dorms. And the entire system adding on expensive amenities like sushi nights and fitness centers in an attempt to compete for out of state students.

What you end up with is a lot of duplicative and competing campuses across the system all expanding across multiple dimensions, maximizing costs in the long run. What Massachusetts needs is to refocus on its core customers and encourage specialization in the system within the context of a broader strategic plan.