Massachusetts State Universities Offer a Golden Ticket to Economic Opportunity

By Barry M. Maloney and James F. Birge, Ph.D.

Those of us from modest upbringings love a good “rags to riches” story. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl – or “Willie Wonka”– a working-class boy gets the golden ticket that will ultimately deliver him and his family from economic despair. For many in Massachusetts, that golden ticket can be your local state university. We say this because of who our students are; how well the nine state universities are serving them; and where they go when they graduate.

 Several well-known Massachusetts colleges do a good job advancing the prospects of non-wealthy students, notably MIT. However, it is the Massachusetts State Universities that do this for so many residents of our state’s gateway cities and underserved populations. Our nine campuses, strategically located across the Commonwealth, offer high-quality, affordable routes to bachelor and master’s degrees with the average price of around $11,000 per year for commuting in-state residents. We are mission driven to educate students from very diverse racial, cultural, socio-economic, and educational backgrounds.  

 Worcester State University, for example, has successfully recruited Worcester Public Schools students. Our percentage of students of color doubled between 2011 and 2018, and the majority of our incoming students are their family’s first generation to attend college. Many of these students face barriers to success that result in lower retention and graduation rates. These achievement gaps are well documented; at the state universities, we set out to address them.

 In 2019 Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (a top 10 public liberal arts college in the country) earned the highest score in the nation from the University of Southern California Center on Race and Equity for educating black students well.  It is a core belief that diversity, equity, and inclusion are the foundation to a robust liberal arts education. Every state university is committed to reflecting the state Department of Higher Education’s Equity Agenda.

 For many of our students, “going to college” can feel like being dropped, blindfolded, in the middle of a forest. We offer them programs, as well as faculty and staff, dedicated to their success. Even a small financial crisis can lead such students to consider withdrawing.  For them, every state university has an institutional emergency fund, which collectively has helped thousands to stay in school.

 All Massachusetts State Universities provide a high-quality learning experience endorsed by our graduates and valued by employers. We are recognized as offering some of the best nursing, teacher preparation, fine and performing arts, and political science programs, and liberal arts is a hallmark.

 Full-time professors teach the vast majority of our classes, and large lecture halls are few and far between. Our online class sizes reflect a commitment to personalized learning. State universities reporting on graduates’ outcomes say 84% to 99% of them land jobs or are in graduate school within a short period of time.

 We take in a large swath of Massachusetts’s high school graduates, provide a welcoming and outstanding learning environment and meet their financial and educational challenges. How do they emerge?

 First: as graduates, in far higher percentages over the past five years. A bachelor’s degree itself predicts a lifetime of higher earnings and that “Golden Ticket” to economic mobility. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2020) data show the median salary for bachelors-degree holders is $64,896, while for someone with a high school education, it is $38,792.

 Second: prepared to propel their families ahead economically.  As they move forward, so does our state. As lawmakers at all levels focus on social justice issues and reforms, we urge them to recognize that economic justice and economic mobility go hand in hand.

 Third: as Massachusetts success stories. Our alumni can be found running cities and towns and large and small business organizations. If they leave, like Worcester State alumnus Imoigele Aisiku, M.D., ’92 – who served on the medical team that saved Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ life– they often return to the Bay State, and settle here.  There is also Dan Kuszpa ’98, a history and communications major while at MCLA, who now works for Nanmac in Milford designing temperature sensors for the cutting-edge rockets of SpaceX.

 About 11,000 degrees are earned by our graduates every year. Emerging from the COVID-19 employment downturn depends upon their tax revenue and purchasing power to fuel a recovery.

 The state university golden ticket, like Charlie’s, is redeemable for those who persist (and in an environment that’s far more supportive than the chocolate factory’s!). A four-year state university education leads to economic opportunity – not just for our graduates, but for the state as well.

 Worcester State University President Barry M. Maloney is the longest serving of the nine-member Massachusetts State University Council of Presidents. His parents worked in the Springfield public schools, which he attended.  President James F. Birge is in his 5th year at MCLA and is a proud graduate of Westfield State University. The other state universities are Bridgewater, Fitchburg, Framingham, Salem, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and MassArt.