The December 15, 2000 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education carried the following three rebuttals to a previous article it had run. The original article had been extremely critical of state colleges generally. Two of the responses are from Massachusetts state college faculty members.

The New Face of State Colleges

To the Editor:
I was interviewed for your article on state colleges because of my role in working to raise admissions standards at my institution, Fitchburg State College ("Facing New Missions and
Rivals, State Colleges Seek a Makeover," November 17). I'd like to reiterate some positive news about state colleges. Your readers might be left with the impression that Fitchburg has had no success in attracting students with stronger academic backgrounds. I did note in my interview with your reporter that we've developed a new honors program ... that has brought a new population of excellent students to the college. (I was surprised that the article said that my daughter attends an honors program at the University of Massachusetts without stating that Fitchburg also has one.)

State colleges have some significant advantages over large research universities. Faculty members at Fitchburg see their primary role as teachers and advisers of students. While many faculty members also conduct research, teaching is the primary criterion used for tenure and promotion. Our classes are small and are taught by professors, not teaching assistants. ...

The comment that faculty efforts at Fitchburg to raise admission standards "ultimately failed because the president at the time feared enrollment would plunge" is not correct. Our proposal was approved by the college's governance structure, our current president, and our Board of Trustees after the retirement of our previous president. ...

Richard Bisk
Professor of Mathematics
Fitchburg State College
Fitchburg, Mass.
To the Editor:
Your report on the value of state colleges omits examination of the triad of expectations for institutions of higher learning and for their faculty members: teaching, research, and service. State colleges are clearly ahead of research-focused universities in the first and the third of these elements. When most faculty members at state colleges are required to teach four courses every semester (with little aid from teaching assistants), they are of necessity meeting directly with a greater number of students far more often than their counterparts at research institutions. ... Teaching at state colleges is intense, as it involves both teaching content and encouraging students -- many of them first-generation college students -- to strive for higher levels of achievement.

In the area of service, especially service to local communities, there is no comparison. Faculty and staff members at state colleges continue to amaze me with their long-term involvement in local education programs and regional economic-development projects.

Through their teaching and service, state colleges add enormous value to society, helping create a more educated, socially aware society. Most state-college faculty members have ... opted for teaching and service over a focus on research. Arguably, they touch a greater number of lives. And, as any baseball fan will attest, two out of three is not a bad average. We may need more state colleges, not fewer.

Vernon Domingo
Professor of Geography
Bridgewater State College
Bridgewater, Mass.
To the Editor:
The characterization of state colleges as "the undistinguished middle child of public higher education" is an unfair and inaccurate description of many of these institutions. Not all
state colleges are "falling ... behind" or attempting "to be all things to all people." ...

Many state colleges are not trying, in Frank Newman's words, "to be just like the other guys," but have well-defined missions that include providing a high-quality, affordable education, as an alternative to private colleges. ... Addressing an obvious need, and doing it well, these state colleges provide an undergraduate education better than that received at most research institutions -- public or private. The proof of this assertion is that these institutions are more selective in their freshman admissions than most research institutions, and that these institutions have very little difficulty retaining their students. ...

These colleges have become highly successful not by offering more programs and more degrees. They have succeeded by supporting a focused commitment to excellence and to fulfilling the needs of students as well as the state and region the institution serves. ... These institutions really value the undergraduate experience, by allocating resources to undergraduate education in the classroom and by fully integrating residential and academic programs. As a consequence, graduates of these institutions are sought by employers and the finest graduate and professional schools in the country.

Speaking for the College of New Jersey and my colleagues at comparable institutions, we have all moved beyond being "regional gateways to higher education ... [whose] enrollments rise and fall with the local population and economy." Indeed, we now compete with public and private institutions such as Miami University, the College of William and Mary, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Virginia, among others, for the best students in our states, regions, and even the country.

R. Barbara Gitenstein
College of New Jersey
Ewing, N.J.

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