We are intrigued to see the results of two recent polls voicing support for Governor Deval Patrick’s plan to invest in education and transportation. While we are prepared to leave the specifics of the tax policy debate to others, we note with interest that a surprisingly large group of voters — 48 percent in a UMass Lowell/Boston Herald survey, 54 percent in another survey by pollster Tom Kiley — have endorsed a plan that would result in increased taxes for some higher-income residents of the Commonwealth (let it be noted that all Massachusetts residents would pay lower sales taxes if the Legislature approves the governor’s revenue plan.)
We are watching the public debate and discussion over state taxes and spending with particular interest this year because the governor’s plan contains what we believe to be historic proposed investments in our underfunded system of public higher education. What’s at stake? As Governor Patrick said in his address to students at the State House on March 5, “If we are going to keep the ‘public’ in public higher ed, then the public has to step up, too.”
As chairmen of the Boards of Higher Education and the University of Massachusetts, we know that keeping the “public” in public higher education is more than a slogan. It is an urgent and essential proposition in a state that lives and dies by its brainpower. By 2018, Massachusetts will lead the nation in the number of jobs — 70 percent — requiring a college education. Where will these skilled workers needed for industry sectors such as health care, IT, life sciences and advanced manufacturing come from? All indications are that the graduates of community colleges, state universities and campuses of the University of Massachusetts will provide the lion’s share of these future employees, with 52 percent of all undergraduates in the state now attending public campuses (up from 30 percent in 1967). Nine of every 10 public college and university students remain in state a year after graduation.