Three years ago, state higher education commissioner Richard Freeland promised to provide periodic, unsentimental assessments of the Commonwealth’s two- and four-year public colleges. Freeland kept his word. Despite a somewhat optimistic title — “Within Our Sights” — the commissioner’s latest report is sobering. Yet it provides something that should be useful to college administrators and policy makers alike: an honest assessment of strengths that individual universities can build on and weaknesses that they must address.
The periodic assessments are part of Freeland’s broader effort to improve the quality of public higher education in Massachusetts. The most disappointing finding in the latest report is the persistent gap between the skills of public college graduates and the needs of the job market. Information technology and advanced manufacturing companies need graduates with bachelor’s degrees in related fields. Job openings for hospital lab technicians and other fields requiring associates degrees also go unfilled. By 2020, according to the report, the state college and university system will produce 35,000 fewer graduates with science- and technology-based degrees than the state’s economy needs.