For pictures of President Robert Caret's stop in the Berkshires, click here.

Tuesday October 11, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- New University of Massachusetts President Robert Caret is making a connection with his public higher education peers, one bus stop at a time.

On Monday, Caret and his staff members launched a four-day, 400-mile, 24-stop bus tour of the state, starting at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams. The bus also stopped at the Intermodal Education Center in Pittsfield on Monday.

"One of the things I believe in is partnerships," said Caret, who said his tour goals include meeting with education, civic and business officials at each stop to discuss ways to work together to keep the university, and in turn the entire state, as prosperous as possible.

Caret officially took office on July 1.

The University of Massachusetts currently has campuses in Amherst, Lowell, Boston and Dartmouth and a medical school in Worcester. In the past, it has also offered satellite programs based in Berkshire County.

"This is exciting, in part to renew the conversation [across institutions]," said MCLA President Mary Grant, a 1986 UMass alumna.

In the past, the college has partnered with UMass on individual projects and research opportunities for students. MCLA also offers a "3+2" engineering program in cooperation with UMass-Amherst. The program guarantees that those MCLA physics majors maintaining a minimum 3.0 GPA will be admitted to the UMass-Amherst College of Engineering upon completion of the first three years at MCLA.

Caret said UMass will be looking to extend some articulation agreements such as this with other state colleges and universities. Other ideas of collaboration include developing more student "experience" programs through which students are immersed into more real-world field settings in relationship to their major; creating more career readiness opportunities; and increasing rates of student retention and making sure students graduate on time.

"We basically want to look and what we aren't doing, and then figure out what we can do about it," Caret said.

The UMass president also said better supporting students financially is a priority.

"Ten to 14 percent of our operating budget is going to financial aid and taking away from other areas. That's how private schools work. That's not how public schools are supposed to work," said Caret. He said the state, in particular, could do a better job in funding public higher education.

Caret will continue his tour and gather feedback from other parts of the state, including Springfield, Holyoke, Amherst, Worcester, Lowell, New Bedford, Fall River and Boston.