RCC questions college system change

ROXBURY CROSSING—Gov. Deval Patrick expressed his desire to radically change the community college system, including centralizing the authority of the state’s 15 campuses, in his Jan. 23 State of the Commonwealth address.

For Roxbury Community College (RCC) Vice President Stephanie C. Janey, the jury is still out on the governor’s notion.

“The idea of centralization…well, it is a proposal,” said Janey. “There is a lot of discussion that needs to take place. At this point, we don’t know what the reality is. The devil is in the details. The uniqueness we have, we don’t want to lose.”

Patrick hopes to bring the community colleges under the direction of the Board of Higher Education. That includes RCC at Columbus Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard. This is a move to ensure the needs of the state, according to Heather Johnson, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Education.

“In terms of autonomy or uniqueness, this is not a direct effort to curb regional identity, but to make sure statewide priorities are met,” said Johnson.

She added that the regional boards would be involved in the process and have an active role with the Board of Higher Education in shaping policies and programs.

But with more oversight arrives the likelihood of more money, as the governor also proposed a $10 million increase in funding for the community college system. This, Janey commented, her school would welcome because added resources would allow it to better serve the community.

Another area where the two agree is when the governor discussed the unemployment problem. Patrick said in his address there are 240,000 people in the state without jobs, but who lack the necessary skills for the 120,000 job openings. He noted this is where the community college system can help.

The Boston Foundation issued a report in November detailing similar measures about community colleges, including upgrading technical skills. But Johnson said the governor’s proposal wasn’t a reaction to any one report. It’s from what he has been hearing from the business community for a long time.

“The governor really sees an opportunity for community colleges to be the solution to the skills-gap problem,” she remarked.

Janey said RCC is committed to training people for employment and has already been doing that, especially in the biotechnology field where there are “an increasing number of jobs, but decreasing number of people who are qualified.”

She pointed out that RCC recently graduated 26 people in biotechnology and has students currently in that field, along with health care and science industries, working as interns in Boston and surrounding areas.

“These are folks who are going right into the field,” said Janey.

But for the vice president, the main concern about the governor’s proposal remains the potential for the centralization to change the uniqueness of the community colleges.

“There are a lot of different institutions based in their communities,” Janey. “We are serving the community here. Each community college has its own niche. They have their own personality and culture.”

Janey stressed that the process is only in the proposal phase and has a long journey to travel.

“We just have to wait and see,” she said. “Is it a better model? I don’t know. What are we losing in this new structure?”

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