NORTH ADAMS -- At Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' annual opening breakfast on Tuesday, speakers put forth public higher education as a priority issue in this election season.
The traditional breakfast meeting for faculty, staff and student leaders to kick off the new school year, which starts today, also marked President Mary K. Grant's 10th year as head of the college.
"Ten years ago, MCLA was a very different place, but in a lot of ways it is also the same," said Grant.
Over the past decade, the college has broadened its student population to include a greater range of students from around New England and from other countries, and to include more non-traditional and graduate-level students through programs like its new professional MBA program.
Turning to a table full of state legislators and college administrators, Grant said, "We need help from all of you at this table to keep investing in the work that we're doing here and in public higher education."
Dana Rap, president of the MCLA Faculty Association and a graduate-level professor of the college's education department, listed the state's Vision Project as one of the "many interesting and complicated issues that will rise this year."
The Vision Project is the state government's plan for public higher education. It includes five focus areas of college participation -- college completion, student learning, work force alignment, and the elimination of disparities. The agenda also outlines policy changes, developing and implementing college-readiness programs, and assessment at a campus and systemwide practice -- all which will likely include more costs and more labor at public higher education institutions.
Charles Cianfarini, president of the local Association of Professional Administrators, expressed the fear of political leaders and policies that could "dismantle public higher education."
Elizabeth Manns, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, encouraged the campus community to speak out and to vote in upcoming elections.
"Non-participation gives you nothing," she said.
MCLA's new Student Government Association President Jason Brown, a senior and environmental studies major, said students will be looking forward to support and transparency from leaders on campus and in the community at large as it pertains to their education and activities.
Brown said the association will be working to encourage students to vote and would welcome any candidates to meet with students on campus. He said the association will be looking at the college's 10-year self-study and accreditation process. It will also be looking at arming campus security guards -- a campus measure many students and faculty members voted against last year.
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