Advice on Higher Ed
Linda Looft, WPI assistant vice president for government and community relations, is one of 35 academia and education professionals from across the state chosen to advise governor-elect Charlie Baker’s transition team on goals and strategies for schools during his upcoming term in office.
WPI is one of just a handful of higher education institutions represented on the education advisory committee, which also includes representatives from public schools, foundations, consultants, tech schools, and community colleges, as well as retired educators. Beth Anderson of Phoenix Charter Academy Network and UMass-Lowell chancellor Marty Meehan co-chair the group.
Though details on the meetings and the final report are being kept under wraps until after the inaugural, Looft says each advisory member was asked to submit a significant amount of input on Pre-K through 16 education. During the subsequent meetings, the members discussed and synthesized the information. Recommendations were put into a preliminary report with all members having editing privileges before the final draft was passed on the administration, she says.
LOOKING FOR BEST IDEAS
“I’m really quite impressed with the fact they are making every effort to include input from across the state,” says Looft. “Plus, [Lieutenant Governor-elect] Karen Polito has been part of the committee and has made it very clear they are looking for the best ideas and are not concerned about which political party is bringing them to the table. It is a very bi-partisan effort and I feel privileged to be part of it.”
Without being specific about what the committee has discussed, from her own perspective Looft says one of the greatest pressures on higher education in the next few years is accountability, in terms of both the cost of education and the ability to prove the value of the educational product through outcomes.
“How quickly are we graduating students? Are they graduating on time? Will they be gainfully employed once they graduate? Metrics for these outcomes are going to be imposed upon us—and that’s not such a bad thing,” she says.
QUALITY WHILE CONTAINING COSTS
Another form of accountability pressure comes within the higher education institutions themselves: trying to deliver high quality education while containing costs. “That’s a real challenge, especially at a place like WPI, where the curriculum is technology based and we require technology to teach students,” she adds.
“We are going to have to look for partners to help us,” including corporate support and blended programs such as the five-year undergrad/master’s degree or the Mass. Academy of Math and Science at WPI, where students take their senior year program at WPI and have a full year of credits to apply here or at another institution.
However the Baker administration decides to proceed in its plans for education, Looft says WPI has already benefitted.
VESTED INTEREST IN EDUCATION
“By virtue of being at the table, WPI is recognized and visible,” she says. “The real value [of this advisory committee] is that people who have a vested interest in education and the outcome of education at all levels get the opportunity to come together in the same room. I have seen real dialogue going on among the participants who wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to work together, sharing ideas and supporting each other in real ways. We had someone from the corporate world say he was blown away by the information he discovered just in the first meeting,” Looft says.
“I also believe this approach to building a strategy for education from start to finish, so to speak, is just the beginning of the conversation. I really believe many of us will continue this dialogue and become resources for each other. And I credit the Baker-Polito administration for facilitating that.”
– BY CATE PRATO