Gov. Deval Patrick's proposal to more closely match the curriculum at the state's 15 community colleges with the skills needed by Bay State businesses is to be applauded. But legislators ought to take a more skeptical view of his suggestion that those colleges be brought within a single governing structure administered by the state Board of Higher Education.
Both ideas were brought forward by the governor in his State of the State speech last Monday.
"There are 240,000 people still looking for work in Massachusetts and nearly 120,000 job openings. Why? How can we have so much opportunity available and so many people still looking for their chance? Business leaders tell me over and over again that it is because the people looking for jobs don't have the skills required," Patrick declared.
He's right to suggest that the community colleges have a key role to play in bridging that "skills gap." But the fact is that many are already doing that. In fact, the governor mentioned several such programs in his speech, and he might well have added the innovative partnership now under way in Lynn involving students at North Shore Community College and the city's largest employer, General Electric.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to streamline the bureaucracies at all the state's institutions of higher education where the emphasis should be on what's happening in the classroom and keeping student fees at a reasonable level. But there's also something to be said for allowing the community colleges to retain the flexibility needed to respond to the specific demands of businesses in the region in which they're located. What makes sense for such a school in Springfield in terms of curriculum, for example, may not necessarily match the needs of employers on Cape Cod.