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Presidents of Amherst College, Bunker Hill Talk College Affordability

Prospective students tour Georgetown University's campus in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Prospective students tour Georgetown University’s campus in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

What can colleges and universities do to help low-income and minority students get a college education? With tuition prices rising each year, and with students taking on more and more debt, how can educators increase access to everyone?

Those were some of the big questions posed last week by President Obama at a White House summit attended by more than 80 college presidents, including several from Massachusetts.

At the summit, college presidents unveiled more than 100 different commitments aimed at helping low-income students attend and complete college.

WBUR’s Anthony Brooks sat down with two Massachusetts college presidents who were at the White House last week to talk about some of those ideas and strategies.


Biddy Martin, president of Amherst College. She tweets at @Biddy_Martin.

Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College. She tweets at @PamEddinger.


The Boston Globe: New Leaders Have Big Plans For Two Boston Community Colleges

  • “’The thing people have to understand is that community college is not students just studying a skill over here and students preparing to transfer over there. If I produce a technician who has no creative thinking skills, and doesn’t know how to learn any further, then what are we producing? The old idea that we’re just trade schools is repugnant to me.’”

The Boston Globe: At White House, College Chiefs Pledge More Equitable Access

  • “President Obama singled out Boston’s Bunker Hill Community College for pledging to help more incoming students catch up on their academics the summer before freshman year. Bunker Hill said it would double the size of its intensive summer English and math program to serve at least 900 students a year.”

NPR: Colleges Guide Low-Income Students From Getting In To Graduating

  • The goal is to find new ways to promote success among low-income students. Higher education is generally seen as the ladder toward economic success, but too few kids are able to climb on and stay on.

Inside Higher Ed: Obama’s Ratings For Higher Ed

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  • Lector

    Very interesting story with good juxtaposition of a community college open to all and one of the most selective schools in the country. It was disappointing that both school presidents said that the way to make college affordable for more people is for the government to spend more money.

    The Amherst president spoke proudly of the fact that almost 1 in 4 Amherst students receives Pell grants. This should be a a point of pain, not pride. With its resources, Amherst should strive to pay its own way and leave public funding for schools (like Bunker HIll) that don’t have the ability to fund financial aid.

    Education in the US needs to evolve, and community colleges should play a bigger role. Our current system did well enough to give a significant portion of people what they needed to become contributing members of society with just a high school education. As the world economy has changed, those opportunities have almost disappeared in the US. Students today need additional and different education to secure positions that enable them to become contributing members of society.

    Community colleges can play a big role in providing that additional education and training. At the same time, students must reach those institutions better prepared than they are now. The president of Bunker Hill spoke of the pre-college program they have to help HS graduates get ready for community college. That students who qualify for a HS diploma aren’t ready for the modest academic challenges of a community college is something between disappointing and shameful. This piece by Thomas Friedman ( http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/opinion/sunday/friedman-obamas-homework-assignment.html?emc=eta1&_r=0) highlights some of the reasons.

    The answer is not to send more people to schools like Amherst. In America today, the portion of the population with a college degree is four times what it was in the 60s and 70s. Despite that, the labor force participation rate is at a near-historic low. The large majority of people will never become research scientists, computer programmers, entrepreneurs, or financial wizards. In previous generations, they took their HS diplomas and went to work in manufacturing jobs that paid them enough to support themselves. Those jobs are gone (for good reason), and they’re not coming back. Where should they go today?

    Only a significant restructuring of the US education system can prepare our population for 21st-century society. Sending more students to four-year colleges and expecting them all to find appropriate jobs is folly. Many are not interested in or capable of roles that truly require a four-year degree. Those who are have sufficient opportunity available to them. We should focus instead on providing appropriate preparation for those who aren’t, and that calls for a radically-different approach to education. More Pell grants and government loans might make us feel good, but they don’t address the real issue.

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