Mayor Menino's 11/1/11 Testimony to the Joint Committee on Education

House Bill 1082: Increased options for those seeking vocational degrees

“It is time for the next wave of education reform, increasing options for those who seek a vocational two year degree.”

Madame Chairs, I want to thank you for affording me the opportunity to submit this testimony on House Bill 1082, “An Act relative to vocational technical education”. For a number of years, this committee has served as the launching pad for innovation and education reform across our state, expanding the options for students in our public school system. It’s given us the ability to compare models, and over time, take the best practices that each has to offer and implement them as appropriate.

The same is true for two year public education in Massachusetts. No one should be satisfied with the current community college system in our state. It is decentralized, it is unfocused, it produces too few technical/vocational associates degrees and it graduates far too few students, particularly in my city. There is too little alignment with private sector job opportunities – in health care; in technology and in trades. This is not to say that there aren’t some examples of success, it is just to say that they are too few and far between.

So, it is time for the next wave of education reform, increasing options for those who seek a vocational two year degree that will provide real choices, either at a four year school, or in the job market.

It is my hope that the provision in this bill to study the empowerment of vocational-technical schools so that they might offer Associates degrees will be enacted and that the study will quickly lead to real action. We need to drive all public two year programs to improve, align with regional employer needs, and giving them more competition should be a positive measure.

My staff has visited several of the regional vocational technical schools and been impressed by the learning that goes on, by the partnerships they’ve established with local businesses, and by the successful track record they’ve had in job placements and how well some of their students are doing in two and four year college courses. It is this focus on connecting the education to the workplace that seems to hold great promise in helping students complete a post secondary degree. They deserve to have a chance, on a pilot basis, to offer services to young adults, and those already in the workforce seeking further education in this area.

And the work of the regional vocational technical schools is also a beacon to us as we look to upgrade our own approach to vocational education. In the near future, Superintendent Carol Johnson will be outlining the results of a report she commissioned on this subject.

This legislation can be a catalyst to move our state higher education systems to focus on providing more options to our young people, thus enabling more successful career outcomes. Beyond this measure, we should also examine:

• How we make public community colleges more accountable to the public. We need to give the Governor and the Board of Higher Education more ability to step in and reward community colleges that succeed, reform community colleges that fail, and create new models that work.

• One option for greater success may be to allow those community colleges with successful efforts, particularly in vocational/technical education, to expand their programs into regions where these programs are lacking. Municipalities such as Boston could provide access to school buildings on evenings and weekends.

• We should also look at the possibility of creating non-profit “innovation” community colleges, run by hospitals or universities, or community coalitions that involve the private sector.

In short, we need to give the public two year college system our full attention. We can no longer accept a community college system that is in the lower middle of the pack Nationally, our K through 12 system is number one in the US, lets strive to get our 2-year system up in the top ranks as well. It’s not fair to the students, it’s not fair to our employer community who are not getting enough technically adept grads, and it’s not fair to our communities, who want our young people to succeed and be productive members fully participating in our labor market.

So please pass House Bill 1082. Many young people will benefit. It’s a great first step to real reform.

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