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Op-Ed: Higher Ed has responsibility to bridge gaps

Submitted: January 22, 2016

President with Governor Baker

It was my privilege on my first day as the new president of Westfield State University to attend Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s first State of the Commonwealth address. Governor Baker spoke to the importance of education at every level, opportunity for all, and economic development. At a time when some form of post–high school education is necessary for financial success and stability, these critical elements underscore the importance of affordable public higher education. People with associate’s, bachelor’s and advanced degrees have a higher life-time earning potential. They are also more likely to have better health and retirement benefits and are less likely to face unemployment.

Higher education and Westfield State in particular needs to play a central role in our region and in the Commonwealth to bridge the gap between K-12, institutions of higher education and our workforce. Westfield State University has already invested in development of low-cost degree and online degree programs. Within the last year, the university has continued to think differently and to explore and develop partnerships and initiatives to engage both students and the Commonwealth in the following ways:

A degree program in partnership with Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College bolsters support both academically and financially for students in Western Massachusetts who think a 4-year degree is out of reach or face barriers that might prevent them from entering a full-time undergraduate program. The program affords students considerable savings for their college education;

The Reach to Teach partnership with the Springfield Public Schools is a “Grow Your Own” initiative designed to attract middle and high school students of color to the teaching profession, one of the university’s institutional strengths. The program will provide up to 20 eligible students from SPS with automatic admission to Westfield State, technical support on the application process, available scholarship funding during junior and senior years, and most importantly, a guaranteed job with mentorship for one year post-graduation in the SPS system;

Forward movement in the health sciences is also critical. Westfield State’s Board of Trustees voted in December to approve two new programs: a new Master of Science in Physician Assistant (PA) Studies program, which will be the only public PA program in New England and which will address a critical need for mid-level providers in profession estimated to grow by 40 percent by 2022, and an RN to BSN program for registered nurses. This new program is in direct response to the Massachusetts Action Coalition support of the Institute of Medicine’s call-to-action to increase the number of practicing BSN prepared nurses to 80 percent by 2020.

We can do more. It is part of our responsibility as a public-mission university to train and prepare excellent minds. I am grateful to a dedicated faculty that endeavors to this every day. I look forward to working collaboratively with partners at all levels both public and private to support these programs as well as to develop new ones.

Westfield State has a 177-year tradition to prepare students to engage in the world around us. I arrive at the institution ready to get to work and ready to join the university at a pivotal time with our community and our state. Ramon S. Torrecilha, Ph.D. is the president of Westfield State University.

This Op-Ed was published in the Westfield News (1/23/16), Masslive (1/25/16) and the Daily Hampshire Gazette (1/29/16).


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