Friday October 5, 2012

The state's community colleges have long been grievously underfunded, ranking at or near the bottom of this funding nationally. This is shameful for a state that prides itself on education but there has been a shift in emphasis in recent years and a dramatic boost came on Wednesday.

The $21.1 million in capital funds for Berkshire Community College announced by Governor Deval Patrick will go a long way toward improving the infrastructure at the Pittsfield-based school that has been crumbling through a number of gubernatorial administrations. The $108.6 million capital improvement project targeted for five community colleges this fiscal year is designed to enable the state schools to keep up with their private counterparts in preparing students for the educational and workforce demands of the 21st century. The money will be used by BCC to renovate Hawthorne and Melville halls, 40-year-old buildings that house the arts and science departments.

With exorbitant private college tuitions pricing out many students, state colleges are increasingly critical in developing the next generation of skilled workers. (See column below). They have a dual role in training workers for the high-tech marketplace and in preparing students who want to go on and earn advanced degrees. This requires the assistance of state government, and the governor and Legislature are quickly making up for past shortcomings in that regard.

Also on Wednesday, the Berkshires' four-year state college, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, announced the first major fundraising campaign in its history, a $22.5 million campaign called Sowing Seeds for Success. The campaign, which is well under way, was officially unveiled at a ceremony that also celebrated MCLA President Mary Grant's decade as head of the school.

In a video, Ms. Grant described public education as "an investment, not an expense," and this investment is in both a student and in the state. It requires both private and public funding and expenditures must be made with the rapidly changing needs of students and the state in mind. BCC and MCLA are aggressively preparing to address these needs for the years and decades ahead.