Higher education

Governor Foster Furcolo and His Vision on Public Higher Education in Massachusetts

June 17th, 2017

More than 2,000,000 students or almost 43% of the college level student population annually would never have the opportunity to attend public higher education in Massachusetts unless the Governor Foster Furcolo’s passionate and untiring struggle to set up 15 Community Colleges within the state was not successful in 1950s. As the Republicans’ Editorial correctly expressed in September 2009, his services were long forgotten by the politicians. In appreciation of his services Massachusetts general laws were amended, only two years back, to designate the 15 Community Colleges Collectively as the “Governor Foster Fucolo’s Community Colleges.” At a time when the private higher education was dominant, and had access mostly to the students from well to do families, Governor Furcolo opened the door for public higher education to those who could not afford to attend costly private educational institutes. He wanted the colleges to locate closer to communities, provide the education at a lower cost to the individuals as well as to the state, meet the demands of the rising manufacturing and service sectors, and to raise the income of families and the revenue of the state in the long run. The benefits of his intelligent foresight could be seen clearly in the Massachusetts economy and society today.

One of his aims was to provide opportunity for higher education for members from low income families who wanted to pursue their higher education. He wanted to reach immigrants, non- working adults, working men and women and disable people who wish to enhance their skills and engage in economic activities. The composition of student population at present shows how far the Governor Furcolo’s target groups reached and benefited from his community college movement. According to a recent economic impact report, the average household income of those students attended community colleges was less than US$ 36,000 per annum, and 60% of the financial aid recipients, particularly the Pell Grant recipients, were from families who earned less than US$ 18,600 per year.

Governor Furcolo saw the growing college age population in mid fifties, and the obstacles they had to get into higher education. His solution was to have a public higher education system to help this population, providing opportunity for them to engage in skill enhancing studies, on-part time, open enrollment basis, and if required with opportunity to enroll in remedial courses. Examination of the composition of student population in Community Colleges in Massachusetts shows that the majority belong to the part-time adult student groups. More than 61% of students in Community Colleges in Massachusetts are half time or quarter time students, and were over 25 years of age, Only 39% were full-time students and in the traditional college age group. Many of them required to have remedial courses such as Math and English, Writing and Reading prior to enrolling for college work. As to a recent study, based on 2005 high school students who entered the Community Colleges in Massachusetts, 37% in average, needed at least one remedial course prior to start work at the college level(Conaway 2008).

Achievement of Fucolo’s vision to make public college education affordable to poor families is evidenced from comparing cost for community college education with other college systems, even today. The national average for college tuition cost for public universities is $4,694 for in state residents. The tuition and fees in a private college is around $ 20,000 in the nation, while in a community college the cost is averaged to $ 2,076. The same pattern is observable in Massachusetts. The nature of the student population required higher education, as Furcolo viewed it, required a dispersed pattern of education facilities. Low distance to facilities save time, and reduce movement cost, reducing the overall cost to an individual, and also minimizing the disturbance to daily routines. Furcolo envisioned that the colleges are located at a commuting distance, so those who were busy with household as well as work place chores could attend them conveniently. Hence, his Public Higher Education Act in 1958 provided laws to set up state wide system of 15 Community Colleges throughout in Massachusetts. They have become the house for 46% of the college students in Massachusetts at present, and it is more than four times of the student enrollment in Higher education in 1950s (Burns 1995).

Fucolo understood the need of the skilled labor in the growing business and the manufacturing sectors at the time, and the responsibility of the public higher education to create a skilled labor pool, if Massachusetts was to be competitive and keep pace with the other states. The community Colleges, therefore, seen as the solution to the shortage of skilled manpower problem at the time. The skilled labor training is a core function of the community colleges even today. Comprehensive Regional Community Colleges in Massachusetts today offer an array of programs leading to associate degrees, certificates and vocational programs. They provide basic, continuing, and remedial courses for college age students and adults. They affiliate with schools, industries and work places and develop programs to improve the skills and the quality of labor helping to increase efficiency and productivity. Massachusetts Community colleges have pioneered an innovative, low- cost, state wide workforce training resource for business and industry called Mass* Net, and it helps to provide workforce training in 21 technological fields. According to a Community College information source more than 5000 work force development programs are yearly offered by Massachusetts Community Colleges. By providing, skilled manpower needs of the states industry, commercial as well as other service units, they have helped to increase income of the manufacturing units, individuals, and the State.

Governor Furcolo wanted to make the Community Colleges a “preparation ground” for higher education. One of the important missions of these colleges today is to facilitate their graduates to transfer to four year colleges which is also an important component of the most community college students’ educational aspirations. At present, Community Colleges have well designed programs and provisions to facilitate student transfers through transfer agreements, and bindings with four year colleges and universities. As a member of a Public Higher Education System, Quinsigamond Community College for example,maintains ties with all the Massachusetts four year colleges and universities and facilitate student transfers through Mass Transfer program introduced in 2008.This program helps for students through reduced tuition fees, and credit transfers, and make transfer process quick, smooth and affordable..

The economic impact of the Community Colleges on individuals, families, and business is clearly seen today in Massachusetts. A recent economic impact report estimated that the incremental annual income of the Community College graduates as US$ 21400 compared to non-graduates. Education also opens to opportunity for better jobs with better benefits.It has been estimated that 90% of the Massachusetts Community College graduates working in the state after their graduation in business, industry, or other services, and the income they generate hence spent mostly within the state. This means that the state is able to generate more revenues taxing the personal income of the community college graduates working in the state. Further, the expenditure in Community Colleges has created a multiplier effects and further regional growth as to various studies. These colleges help also the local economies to sustain their economic activities through spending of students and visitors, and workers. Thus the Community Colleges in Massachusetts have become a growth engine for the state according to the same economic impact report mentioned earlier.

Governor Foster Furcolo ‘s foresight on Public Higher Education as discussed in this essay have helped many poor, and low income young as well as adult students to enter into higher education. The personal income of those who educated these colleges has increased due to their higher education, and also the income of the state through income tax revenues. Those graduates have become the greatest source of skilled man power, for industries and business to thrive in Massachusetts. Governor Furcolo should be viewed as a great serviceman who served Massachusetts, and embrace his visions in the future as The Republican Editorial remarked in September 2009.

Indian Higher Education – An Overview

June 9th, 2017

Wide discussions are held on the state and concerns of Indian higher education. What really is the issue here? Let us take a look!…

Though the problems associated with this sector are multilayer-ed, I had divided it broadly in to administrative and academic problems, with few subtitles under these as I feel that all other problems like, social, psychological etc. associated with this sector comes in the backdrop of these broad problems. Let us first look in to these problems before going in to the reforms required.

CONCERNS

I) ADMINISTRATIVE-

i) Reservation- Reservation and Privatization are perhaps the most debated topic in our higher educational sector, and hence I have listed it first in the list. Increased concern over reservation has negatively affected our higher educational system as it has taken away lime light from many other major concerns. Reservation in any sector (&especially I educational system), causes loss to society, as the brightest do not reach better institutes; but we still continue with it thinking it would bring more good to the society than its losses. Though the need for a reservation still exists it is time to think of its re-allotment for more effectiveness. Sam Pitroda, the chairman of National Knowledge Commission, “Reservation has probably set us back several years in our ability to carry out the reforms we need to.”

The popular support that reservation gets had prompted many of our politicians to o on further with reservation (with a need for Supreme Court to intervene in the matter and cap reservation limit to maximum of 50 Percent). The social tensions faced by the authorities against this policy is mainly managed by increasing the total number of seats and also because many among the upper class pursue foreign education.

The proper implementation and gradual reduction of reservation in a democratic country like ours need strong political will, free of prejudices.

ii) Political intervention in universities- This takes place both in policy formation and implementation. Bureaucratic sluggishness, misconceptions and prejudices retard the growth of our higher education sector. The denial of visa for prominent global educationalists to come to India, the slow moving files in government offices on matters concerning collaboration of industry and institutes, the delays in allocation of new courses etc. are the finest examples of this aspect.

Among the policy matters too, the absence of Political visionaries had been a problem while there were 5 IITs established during Nehru’s period, only 1 IIT was established prior to the recent establishment of5 new IITs. Unhealthy political among the teaching and the student community and the inefficient funding has also retarded the growth of this field. A prominent educationalist tells, “Our deans and administrators now hang on the spoken word of our politicians, and student unions and teachers beat to their drum. It’s so entrenched that asserting independence in appointments and day to day decision turns you in to a radical, a rebel in the system.”

As political elite and the government receive benefits of these negative aspects, they prefer a status-quo. Thus, in our higher educational system, we have this uncomfortable condition, as Nandan Nilekani puts it “the state interferes, rather than guiding; (play) politics rather than policy”.

iii) Regulation- In the regulatory aspect of higher education, we have a dual problem. On the one hand, we have a confusing array of different regulatory bodies like UGC and AICTE and on the other hand, neither the government, nor UGC or AICTE has an effective control over our Universities. The rating system of the UGC and AICTE is also one with many loop holes.

Due to absence of good legislation, UGC and AICTE had reduced to regulatory bodies that stand helplessly by, as India’s university system crumbled, and thus half of India’s expanding colleges, as a Vice-chancellor remarked, “are intellectual and social slums”.

iv) Funding- India spends only 1.9 percent of its GDP on higher education, the lowest among any nations with GDP higher than $500 billion. Its spending on research activities at universities is also very low compared to both the developed and the emerging nations. Even the funds that are presently allotted are not efficient enough. But, it should be noted that higher funding or investment in higher education can lead to better results only with reforms in the total system.

II) ACADEMIC-

i) Quality of the Higher education- India is the 3rd largest in the number of higher educational institutes after China and USA and is one of the largest degree producers in the world.

But, quality of these is quite unsatisfactory. No worthwhile invention has been made here. Rote learning can identified as one of the factor behind this. India’s engineering and medical colleges, management schools and universities are facing a serious shortage of quality academic faculty by about 20 percent. Global competitiveness of Indian students is comparatively small and is still smaller if the top 10 institutes of India are taken out. India does not have more than 5 universities in the top 500 bracket of the academic ranking of world universities.

ii) Number of Institutions for higher education- Though India is one of the largest in terms of number of institutes for higher education; it is still short of them. This shortage is expected to be more by 2015, thanks to the efforts to improve the enrollment ratio. By 2015, we need at least 1500 universities, against 350 we have today.

iii) Research- The research standards of our country has been poor, both in terms of quality and quantity. If we consider a particular area, say Computer Science, where we are assumed to be strong, we can see that annual PhDs in this field in our country is 25, while it exceeds 800 in USA and 2500 in China. IIT is granted 3-6 patents in a year, where as it is 64 for Stanford and 102 for MIT! We haven’t seen any technological adaptation after 1970s and 1980s and not a single major invention emerged from India over past 50 years!!!

iv) Employability- “75 percent of the Indian graduates are unemployable for the work they are trained for”, was said by Shri. Narayana Murthy of Infosys. Many people prefer sub-standard engineering degree than good vocational skills, where as 90 percent of the employment opportunities require vocational skills. McKinsley estimates that only 10 percent of Indian students in arts and humanities and only 25 percent of Indian engineering graduates are globally competitive. 12 percent of the 41 million unemployed are either a graduate or a postgraduate!

REFORMS

It is an agreed fact that reforms are required in the area of higher education. Many suggestions on this matter address many of the problems mentioned earlier. Some of them are a panacea for more than one of those problems.

A ‘super regulator’ which forms a single independent regulatory body would eliminate the confusion prevailing over multiple arrays of regulatory bodies. This would also bring more transparency, setting up of uniform controls and better quality in higher education. We need independent regulatory body free from government or political intervention.

Private participation, if properly propelled can bring out both qualitative and quantitative improvement in our higher educational sector. It is neither possible nor sensible for the government to invest the huge amount that is required for, in our higher educational sector. Private participation, from both inside and outside the country should be encouraged to make more institutes in our country. This will take away the deficit between the demand for higher education and the availability of institutes. This will avoid the instances like that which happened in Delhi University this year, when a 100percent cut-off was announced in a college under the university. Institutes like TISS, BITS, Lady Sriram College, Sriram College of Commerce, Xavier Labour Relations Institute (XLRI), CMC Vellore, St. Stephen’s College, etc. has taken away our doubts on the quality of private institutes.

The interactions between industries and institutions should be encouraged, taking necessary precautions, as this can increase the employability of the students.

Reforms have taken in our country when visionaries came in to action, like it happened during Nehru’s times. When visionaries like M.S. Swaminathan, Vikram Sarabhai, Sam Pitroda, Verghese Kurien etc. acted, reforms required happened with direction. In the higher educational sector of our country, we have “a Niagra of reports and a Sahara of actions”. Reforms required in higher educational sector requires controversial steps, as we are in a democracy. In fact, the market economy has been pushing us to the necessary reforms, to an extent. The question is, whether India can bring about these reforms fast enough to avail the opportunities that the country has today- domestically and globally???

Know the Higher Education Expenses Covered by Your IRA Account

June 2nd, 2017

College Education spells costs. Savings nowadays accumulate just minimal interest rates; not enough to cover your entire child’s education. Good thing there are IRA assets. IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account and owning one can save you from the stress of financing your children’s education after high school. Using the IRA to cover for the qualified higher education expenses at a qualified educational institution gives a lot of convenience to parents nowadays.

What are higher education expenses and what measures are used to determine if the expenses are qualified? Section 529 Chapter 3 of Internal Revenue Code defines “qualified higher education expenses” as a term denoting the essential college expenses. Essential college expenses constitute equipment, supplies, books, tuition and fees needed for attendance or enrollment in a qualified educational institution. If your child is a half time student, these expenses can also include his room and board.

Be cautious however and remember that not all higher education expenses are covered by IRA. By law, it is required that the expenses should be coordinated with the other educational benefits of the student. On the recent rules released by Commissioner Gorski of the United States Tax Court, IRA distributions should be used to pay certain equipment or supplies necessary for enrollment or attendance; these expenses are penalty free. Moreover, the owner should withdraw his contributions for qualified higher education expenses the same year the expenses are incurred.

IRA does not cover all expenses! This should be stressed to all IRA owners since most of the times, there are confusions as to what can be regarded as expense or not. Simple guidelines will be:

a. Proper and complete documentation is necessary for purchase of books. The documentation is needed to show that the expense is really incurred during appropriate tax year.

b. Household items are not needed for enrollment. These items are not higher education expenses and thus are not qualified.

c. Laptop computers are important educational equipment needed by students nowadays. Although this maybe the case, these computers are not required for a student to be enrolled; and just the same, these will not qualify as higher educational expenses since schools will not require students to purchase one.

As you can notice, the rules are basic and direct. The US Court definitely requires that the eligible educational institution should be the ones stating their specific requirements. What is set by the educational institution as school expenses will then be the basis of IRA’s higher education expenses.

Being an IRA owner, you can choose to utilize all or just some of your IRA assets to help you settle your children’s education. Your distribution, when withdrawn before your age of 591/2, will be subject to 10% penalty tax and federal income tax. Nevertheless, the IRC allows several kinds of distribution exempted from the 10% penalty tax; this includes those distributions utilized to pay qualified expenses. Remember that if the amount you withdrew from your IRA account in a year does not exceed your eligible higher education expenses, the penalty tax of 10% will not be applied, however, you will still pay the regular income tax.

With the bulging costs of higher education nowadays, it’s a good thing people are getting wiser by investing their money for future. Individual Retirement Account is good for supporting your child’s education. Proper preparation is vital and owners must be responsible enough to know which will qualify as higher education expenses and which are not.