State Will Track Civic Education in Colleges

Tim Goral's picture

In what could end up being a landmark initiative in the country, the state’s Board of Higher Education has embarked on a mission to track how well Massachusetts institutions foster civic engagement on their campuses.

Some local experts see the move as a response to the greater emphasis placed on job training, especially for science and technology careers, in higher education in recent years. While state officials have been vocal in highlighting colleges’ role as work force development centers, some faculty members have quietly been telling the Board of Higher Education that there’s another component to producing successful graduates.

“They said, ‘You know what? There’s a reason we’re saying we want to create the best citizenry and work force, and not just create the best work force,’ ” said Katy Abel, spokeswoman for the state’s Higher Education Department. “We need to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak.”

On Tuesday, the board voted to begin developing a plan to measure how public colleges and universities teach civic education.

Many schools across the country already do that themselves by administering the National Survey of Student Engagement, which incorporates questions about civic engagement. But Massachusetts is poised to become the first state to create a measure that could be compared with other states, said Abel. Also, she added, the effort fits with the state’s Vision Project initiative to make its higher education system a leader in the country.

A working group of faculty, administrators and outside experts has been asked to come up with the performance measure, which may incorporate the national survey, Abel said.

Most public higher education institutions in the state already teach civic education, and Abel said the board’s intent isn’t to make more work for them.

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