By Carlos E. Santiago, Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education
It is a distinct honor for me to serve as Massachusetts’ first commissioner of higher education with Hispanic roots and heritage. I am proud to serve the Baker-Polito Administration as a representative of the fastest-growing segment of the Massachusetts population, and to bring my perspective and experience to a public higher education system that educates 79% of the state’s Latino undergraduates.
The diversity of the students we serve is a strength of our public colleges and universities. But diversity alone won’t help students earn college diplomas, or help the state deliver the skilled workers that employers want to hire. Here’s the truth: too many of our young people arrive on college campuses full of hope for the future but ill-prepared to do college-level work. They languish in remedial classes that they pay for but earn no college credit for – and little surprise, large numbers of them become discouraged and drop out. Time and money are huge barriers to earning degrees; the longer a student stays in college, the less likely he or she is to ever earn a degree. Yet so many of our students are forced to work longer hours to pay college costs and to support families.
I see this heartbreaking story play out over and over again across the state. Too many college dreams die right on college campuses. Fewer than 20% of Latino/a students are graduating from community colleges within six years. At the state universities, less than half of our students graduate. The picture is a bit better at the undergraduate campuses of the University of Massachusetts, but much more work needs to be done across our entire system of higher education to improve these completion rates. We need to get every student who is serious about his or her future across the finish line with a degree or certificate in hand.
This matters tremendously for our community. Here’s why: by 2020, seven out of every ten jobs in Massachusetts will require post-secondary education, some sort of training or credential beyond a high school diploma. No parent wants his or her children to face the future knowing that only three out of every ten jobs will be open to them.
As Commissioner, I want all our citizens to develop the skills and talents needed to quality for good-paying jobs. Here are a few of the things that my department is doing to expand opportunity for students and families:
MAKING COLLEGE MORE AFFORDABLE THROUGH THE COMMONWEALTH COMMITMENT: We’ve created a program that allows students to save an average 40% off the cost of a bachelor’s degree by beginning their studies at a community college, then transferring to a state university or UMass campus.
Detailed information is available at www.mass.edu/macomcom.
CHANGING REMEDIAL EDUCATION: Across the state, our public campuses are overhauling their remedial education programs, allowing students to get extra help with their studies at the same time they are taking for-credit college classes. This helps keep more students on track for graduation.
HELPING LATINO AND AFRICAN AMERICAN MALE STUDENTS GET TO COLLEGE: Working with local high schools and public campuses, we’ve created 100 Males to College programs in Springfield, Worcester, Brockton and Framingham. Students who are not on track to get past high school receive academic support, make college visits and even take free college classes. This “Brotherhood for Success” is showing results; in Springfield, 95% of the first group of students enrolled in college.
Within the next decade, some 600,000 Baby Boomers will retire in Massachusetts. This will create many new job openings for our young people, but only if they are prepared to seize them. To me, there is no more important work than to shrink opportunity gaps and make sure that all our young people are ready for college and the world beyond.