November 2004

Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Inc.

                       TELEGRAM & GAZETTE (Massachusetts)

                     November 19, 2004 Friday
Massachusetts needs to invest in faculty at state colleges

Janelle C. Ashley; Barbara J. Sinnott

   In the early 1800s, Horace Mann started a bold experiment by founding "normal schools" that marked the beginning of the state college system in Massachusetts and of public higher education nationwide. The Worcester Normal School, now Worcester State College, was established in 1874 to provide the city of Worcesterbursting with new immigrantswith teachers to teach their children the "ways of democracy." Mann's idea of expanding access to higher education to all citizens has been an unequivocal success. The system that he founded now numbers nine state colleges, educates 45,000 students each year and boasts more than 200,000 alumni living in Massachusetts. It is ironic that the state that created the first public colleges now ranks next to dead last in the country in per capita support for public higher education.

   Nowhere is this lack of support more evident than in the salaries paid to our faculty. The boards of trustees and presidents of the state colleges recently completed a study that shows that faculty members at Massachusetts state colleges are significantly underpaid compared to their counterparts at similar institutions in other leading industrial states.

   When factoring in the high cost of living in Massachusetts, the study found that state college faculty at all ranks were underpaid by 19 percent, with full professorsour most experienced educatorsthe worst off, earning 22 percent, or $18,913, less than their peers. Even using a more conservative estimate that does not account for wide disparities in cost of living, faculty across all ranks at the Massachusetts state colleges receive 11 percent less than the average salary of their peers, with full professors earning 14 percent less.

   Low faculty salaries greatly hinder our ability to attract, recruit and retain new faculty members. We conduct national searches to identify and recruit the highest-quality faculty to our campuses. When considering hiring offers, however, candidates are increasingly choosing to locate in states with lower costs of living even if salary levels are comparable. Most of the cost differential is attributable to the high housing costs in our state, which in 2000 were 60 percent higher than the U.S. average.

   The failure to adequately compensate our faculty also sends a powerful message to our students that their education is not that important to the people of Massachusetts. With 95 percent of Worcester State College students coming from working families who live in the state, our students deserve and properly demand the highest quality education. But the reality is that our inability to provide competitive pay will eventually erode educational quality on our campuses. We have an obligation as educators and state leaders to prevent any compromise of the high educational standards we have set for our public colleges.

   Perhaps most important of all, relatively low faculty salaries are dangerously inconsistent with the environment of excellence that our professors have been so essential in creating at all of the state colleges. High quality teaching and learning are at the core of this environment, and our faculty members constitute its lifeblood.

   Continued deterioration of faculty salaries is not simply a campus or even an educational issue; it calls into question our future competitiveness as a state. Attracting and retaining the best professors is at the core of our colleges' ability to succeed in educating the future working professionals of the commonwealth. More than any other state, Massachusetts, with its knowledge-based economy, depends on the presence of a highly educated work force to attract businesses, lure investment and create jobs.

   The Division of Employment and Training, in its employment projections for the state through 2010, has determined that 321,500 job openings will require a bachelor's degree or higher, as compared to 68,720 jobs that will require an associate's degreealmost a 5-to-1 ratio. The Massachusetts State Colleges are the most affordable and accessible regional gateway for our residents to pursue four-year degree and professional development opportunities in Massachusetts. And, as important, our students are keeping their new skills here in the Bay State, with more than 80 percent of our graduates remaining in Massachusetts. For Worcester State College, the impact is even greater as 94 percent of our students remain in the state with 80 percent choosing to live in the Greater Worcester area.

   As the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative has warned, "A strong public sector higher education system is needed to complement private higher education. Low and declining support per capita threatens the Massachusetts Innovation Economy and its well-educated work force."

   One hundred and sixty-five years ago Horace Mann recognized what is equally true today: By investing in our state colleges and in public higher education more generally, we are investing in our own future as a state.

   Janelle Ashley is president of Worcester State College. Barbara Sinnott is chairman of the Worcester State College Board of Trustees