State Higher Ed Commissioner Carlos Santiago addresses relationship between education, business


Photo Gallery | 1Berkshire hosts Higher Ed Commissioner Carlos Santiago

PITTSFIELD — Replacing the county's aging workforce by attracting and retaining younger skilled employees has been an ongoing conversation in the Berkshires.

On Tuesday, state Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago probed the relationship between education and business, suggesting the state's higher education system needs to adapt to those changing demographics. That change begins at the local level, he said.

"This is not about elevating the system; it's about elevating the (local) campuses," said Santiago, at a meeting of the Berkshire Business Roundtable at the Country Club of Pittsfield. "It's closer to you if you support the campuses."

The Berkshire business community can "really support" the education system with student internships, Santiago said.

"If we can develop that over and over in multiple regions, the Massachusetts (higher education) system will take care of itself," he said.

Lisa Chamberlain, of the Chamberlain Group in Great Barrington, said having a small business like hers makes it difficult to provide student internships "in the traditional way."

"I don't have the resources to monitor the work," said Chamberlain, whose company produces anatomically accurate medical models. "I think we have to change what internships look like."

Tuesday's event was the first in a series of regional meetings across the state that Santiago is holding to discuss the findings from a recently released report titled, "The Degree Gap: Honing in on College Access, Affordability & Completion in Massachusetts."

The discussion was focused on talent development, the role of public colleges and universities and how they align with the state's economy.

"We've got to change the narrative," Santiago said.

Massachusetts has the most educated population in the country — 51.5 percent of adults between the ages of 25 and 54 are adult degree holders.

But the report found that by 2022 the overall rate at which young residents earn college degrees will pivot from growth to decline unless the state's public higher education system can find ways to raise college completion rates for all students, including those from underserved populations and communities.

"Ten years from now productivity will have left the workforce," Santiago said. "The knowledge based economy is declining — all the numbers show it. That's a concern that hurts our competitiveness in the economy."

Changing that dynamic depends on how quickly the state can educate students so that they can move skilled workers into the workforce faster, he said.

One of the solutions includes the recently enacted Commonwealth Contract, which gives students attending schools in the state's higher education system reduced tuition for achieving certain benchmarks as they move through the system.

Another solution is making it easier for students to transfer from one educational institution in the system to another.

"The biggest complaint that the governor gets is 'I paid all this money and now I can't transfer these credits,'" Santiago said.

Taking more pre-college courses at the high school level has also been discussed.

"The lines between K-12 and higher education are going to have to blur," Santiago said. "This administration wants them more closely aligned."

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.


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