What's New

  • Chart from Developmental Math PResentation

    Public Campuses Report Fewer Students Placing into Remedial Math

    1st Results from Pilot Program Show More Students Succeeding in College-Level Courses

    May 7, 2015 – BOSTON – A pilot program to overhaul remedial math programs at Massachusetts’ public colleges and universities is showing early signs of success, with more students placing directly into credit-bearing coursework and then moving on to complete those courses at better-than-expected rates, the Department of Higher Education reported today.

    A preliminary analysis of campus data from University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges shows that students who placed into college-level math courses based on their cumulative high school GPA are, at some campuses, completing credit-bearing math courses at rates comparable to or higher than those of students whose placements were based on their Accuplacer® scores. Since 1998, public campuses in Massachusetts have relied on Accuplacer© as the primary means of  determining placement in entry-level math and English courses. National research indicates that high school GPA is a better predictor of success in college, and that placements based on Accuplacer scores may lead to too many students being placed into remediation.

    “Here in Massachusetts as in other states, there is growing concern about how few students move on to complete math courses and ultimately, their degrees,” said Richard M. Freeland, Commissioner of Higher Education. “I am delighted to see our state among those taking the lead in overhauling programs that have often proven to be a barrier to course and degree completion.” 

    “We expected to see a drop in the numbers of students assigned to remedial courses, but we were not expecting to see so many students succeeding in college-level math courses at these rates,” said Carlos Santiago, Senior Deputy Commissioner for Academic Affairs at the Department of Higher Education. “This is testament to the innovative approaches being adopted by campuses as they adopt new instructional methods and placement practices to help students transform failure into success.”

    Currently, more than one in three Massachusetts high school graduates who enroll at a public college or university place into developmental education courses.

    At the University of Massachusetts Boston, where the number of developmental math course sections has been cut in half and the number of students enrolled in such courses cut by two-thirds from fall 2013 to fall 2014, data suggest that student success in completing entry-level, for-credit math courses is as strong, if not stronger than in prior years when students were placed into remediation classes, Maura Mast, Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies at UMass Boston, told members of the Board of Higher Education in a presentation last week. UMass Boston plans to discontinue its developmental education program beginning in the fall.

    “We feel we’ve seen a very dramatic shift,” Mast said. “We’ve reduced barriers to the four-year college degree.”

    At the state’s community colleges, where the need for remedial math is most acute, only 18 of every 100 students enrolled in such courses complete a credit-bearing course within two years. The progress reports delivered to the Board of Higher Education suggests that campus efforts to overhaul remedial math instruction are producing stronger student outcomes. Data summarizing the recent progress can be found here.

    At Bristol Community College in Fall River, 86% of the students placed into college-level math based on a high school GPA of 2.7 of better went on to complete the course, compared with 68.8% of the students placed on the basis of their Accuplacer cut score. Even students with GPAs below 2.7% had higher course completion rates than the Accuplacer control group.

    “While using high school GPA and transcripts as a measure of preparedness might not be perfect, I feel that it is certainly a better measure than the Accuplacer exam and a step in the right direction,” said Dan Avedikian, Chair of the Math Department at Bristol.

    In 2013, amid growing concern that too few students ever move on from developmental coursework to complete credit-bearing courses and degrees, the Board of Higher Education authorized a one-year period of campus experimentation to overhaul developmental math programs. The Board’s Policy on Developmental Math  gave campuses broad latitude to design changes, with some choosing to develop new curricula or utilize new placement methods, while others increased support services to students. Eighteen of the state’s 29 public campuses have launched pilots using high school GPA, or GPA combined with other standards, such as SAT scores, to determine student placement in math courses in lieu of the more widely used Accuplacer placement test. 
      
     The goal of the BHE policy is to increase by 20% the number of students completing a college-level math course within two years of enrollment.

    slideshare presentation Adding up the Progress: Transforming Developmental Math

  • Performance Incentive Fund Report Cover

    Performance Incentive Fund Grants Focus on "Big Three" Plan to Produce More College Graduates

    Campus programs work to boost completion rates, close achievement gaps, and attract students from underserved populations

    Projected Shortage of Qualified Workers

    In October 2014, the Department of Higher Education (DHE) released the third Vision Project annual report, Degrees of Urgency: Why Massachusetts Needs More College Graduates Now. With an oncoming decline in the size of Massachusetts’ adolescent population, the report projects fewer students enrolling in and graduating from Massachusetts’ public colleges and universities in the coming years. Unless offset by improved performance, this will lead to a shortage of tens of thousands of skilled college graduates needed for the workforce.

    "Big Three" Completion Plan

    To avert this shortage of college graduates and the threat it poses to the Massachusetts economy, Degrees of Urgency lays out a “Big Three” Completion Plan. It focuses on high-impact strategies under the umbrella of the Vision Project that will address the projected shortfall in students completing degrees and certificates at the state's community colleges, state universities and UMass campuses:

    1. Boost College Completion Rates
    2. Close Achievement Gaps
    3. Attract and Graduate More Students from Underserved Populations

    Campus Convenings

    At a February 27 Vision Project Conference, DHE convened 250 faculty, staff and trustees of the public campuses to advance the “Big Three” agenda. Conference planners identified 15 specific, innovative strategies underway on Massachusetts public campuses to achieve the “Big Three” goals, and colleagues around the system shared successful approaches to implementing each of them. Work will continue this summer with a program of cross-campus collaborations designed to facilitate the scaling of effective strategies across the system.

    Performance Incentive Fund

    Many of these effective strategies have been developed using Vision Project Performance Incentive Fund grants awarded in FY2012–FY2015:

    • FY2012 With a $2.5 million line item in the Commonwealth’s FY2012 budget, the Fund provided grants to 18 campuses, along with a goal of encouraging long-term sustainability offunded initiatives through declining balance continuation grants: 2/3 of the original grant in Year 2 and 1/3 in Year 3.
    • FY2013 & FY2014 The Legislature increased funding to $7.5 million for FY2013 and FY2014, greatly expanding the impact of the funds. DHE was able to issue grants for 41 new projects as well as the smaller continuation grants for previous years’ projects. In addition, DHE was able to launch a system-wide initiative to facilitate transfer between two-year and four-year institutions.
    • FY2015 Due to funding constraints, the Fund was cut back to $3.25 million, and grants were only awarded to continue projects from FY2013 and FY2014, including the system-wide transfer project.

    DHE hopes that, in FY2016, the Fund will be restored to its FY2014 level so that it can be used to scale effective “Big Three” strategies across the system.

    For examples of projects funded by the Performance Incentive Fund, download the PDF FY2015 Performance Incentive Fund Report

  • Visualization of an academic transfer pathway, composed of a combination of gen-ed, foundational, elective and additional courses that total to the first 60 credits needed to fulfill freshman & sophomore requirements in a major

    “Great Progress” on Transfer Pathways Reported to BHE

    Two-Year Project to Help Students Map Clearer, Faster Routes to Degrees

    With a whopping 2600 unique and separate campus articulation agreements in place across the Commonwealth, students and their academic advisors can find it difficult, “if not impossible” to navigate the transfer system, DHE Senior Deputy Commissioner for Academic Affairs Carlos Santiago told the Board of Higher Education on Tuesday.

    The good news for students, as well as sending and receiving institutions, is that Massachusetts is now on the way to replacing a patchwork system of individual transfer requirements with an integrated system that will allow for seamless transfer, particular from community colleges to state university and UMass campuses, while also promoting the Vision Project “Big Three” goals aimed at boosting college completion rates, Santiago said.

    The BHE heard a detailed update on Phase One of the work to map course equivalencies for 6,000 foundational courses in six disciplines: Biology, Chemistry, Economics, History, Political Science, and Psychology. Complete transfer pathway maps are slated to be completed this spring. Phase Two work on ten more disciplines—Business, Criminal Justice, Communications and Media Studies, Computer Science, Early Childhood Education, English, Liberal Arts, Mathematics, Sociology and STEM foundations—is slated to be completed by the end of 2016, and together the two phases will capture 70 percent of transfer students’ majors. The Department of Higher Education is building a new web-based interface, backed by a course-to-course equivalency database, that will allow transfer students to map their route to a bachelor's degree with fewer detours, lost credits and unexpected costs.

    “This use of technology to help facilitate system integration is brilliant,” said Fernando Reimers, BHE member and professor of International Education and Director of Global Education and International Education Policy at Harvard University. “This gives us a platform to help not only students but also high school guidance counselors. And it makes it all very transparent for education leaders.”

    Santiago added that the new system will also be available for use as an advising tool, and to help academic planning teams design programs based on a full slate of state resources. Given the cooperation and involvement of campus faculty in designing the system, Santiago predicted that Massachusetts will be able to complete work on its transfer pathways without the need of a legislative mandate.

    “We've been lagging behind other states in this work," Santiago said, “but we think we're caught up.”

  • Cover of 'Educating Students for Success: A Comparison of the MCAS and PARCC Assessments as Indicators of College- and Career- Readiness'

    Measuring College and Career Readiness with New PARCC Exam

    Supporters of PARCC say our current measures are not aligned with college and career expectations
    Key Outcome 5 is College Participation

    The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) does not indicate a student’s preparedness for post-high school success according to a report released today by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE). The lack of alignment with college and career expectations has resulted in high remediation rates at state colleges and universities and a widening “skills gap.” The report, Educating Students for Success: A Comparison of the MCAS and PARCC Assessments as Indicators of College- and Career-Readiness, is the first study to compare MCAS and PARCC (which stands for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) as indicators of readiness for credit-bearing college courses and the work force.


    Also, The Boston Foundation held a forum on January 14, 2015 to discuss the Common Core academic standards and PARCC. Education specialists and policy advocates considered what the new assessments might be and what they mean for schools in Massachusetts. Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland gave closing remarks.



  • The 'Big Three' Completion Plan is to Boost Graduation Rates, Close Achievement Gaps and Atrract and Retain more Students from Underserved Populations

    Vision Project Conference to Focus on Solutions to Looming “Degree Gap”

    Education Secretary Peyser to Address Campus Delegations

    With Massachusetts facing projected shortages of high-skilled college graduates, the state's community colleges, state universities and UMass campuses plan to caucus at a working conference February 27th to share proven strategies for boosting college completion rates.

    The invitation-only conference marks the first time that the chief academic officers from every public campus in the Commonwealth will meet to develop a shared approach to the college completion agenda. Two hundred and fifty campus delegates will meet to advance the "Big Three" college completion goals outlined in the 2014 Vision Project report, Degrees of Urgency: Why Massachusetts Needs More College Graduates Now. The conference will also feature a keynote from Jim Peyser at his first major higher education convening since being appointed Secretary of Education.

    “Through this gathering, we have a rare opportunity to collectively address the important need for the Commonwealth to produce more educated and prepared citizens in the knowledge-based economy,” said Carlos E. Santiago, DHE’s Senior Deputy Commissioner for Academic Affairs. “We anticipate that the strategies that emerge from the conference will be scalable across Massachusetts’ public campuses and will increase the numbers of students successfully traversing higher education while closing achievement gaps. To address this from a system-wide perspective is truly unique for Massachusetts.”

    Conference planners have identified 15 strategies underway on Massachusetts public campuses to achieve the “Big Three” goals of 1) boosting college completion rates; 2) closing achievement gaps; and 3) attracting, retaining and graduating more students from underserved populations. Through a series of working sessions, campus attendees will learn from colleagues around the system about successful approaches to implementing each of the 15 strategies. In the afternoon each campus will meet as a team to build on the knowledge gained in the morning and develop a plan of action to further advance the strategies at their institution, and to put forth recommendations on how best to accomplish these goals as a system. These will be shared in a final plenary session with Commissioner Richard M. Freeland.

    “My hope for the conference is that leaders from every public campus will take away an enhanced sense of steps they can and will take to improve outcomes with respect to each of the Big Three goals,” said Commissioner Freeland. “By taking time to learn from each other in this way, we will not only be serving our students but demonstrating to the Administration and Legislature our seriousness of purpose with respect to meeting the Commonwealth’s need for a highly educated workforce.”

    Conference registration is at capacity and running a waiting list. For those unable to attend, findings and next steps from the conference will be made available on the Vision Project website.

  • DHE Hosts Statewide Civic Learning Conference

    Leaders in academic policy and civic education convened at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston to discuss implementation of the Board of Higher Education's Civic Learning Policy

    Key Outcome 5 is Civic LearningThe Department of Higher Education (DHE) hosted the first Statewide Conference on Civic Learning on November 14, 2014 at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. The conference featured keynote speaker Caryn McTighe Musil, Senior Scholar and Director of Civic Learning and Democracy Initiatives at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and included breakout sessions that delved into critical aspects of the implementation of the Civic Learning Policy.

  • New Report on Massachusetts Public Higher Education Shows Progress in Closing Achievement Gaps; Outlines Plan to Increase College Completion Rates

    3rd “Vision Project” Report shows gains among Latino students; forecasts shortage of college graduates needed for key sector growth

    BOSTON -- October 28, 2014 – At a time of rising demand for skilled college graduates in the Commonwealth, the Department of Higher Education’s third annual Vision Project report shows progress being made to raise graduation rates and close achievement gaps among public college and university students in Massachusetts, but also projects a shortage of skilled graduates needed to meet the needs of employers in key industry sectors that fuel economic growth, based on an expected drop in the state’s high school population in the coming years.

    “The Vision Project report provides state leaders with a road map that allows us to think and respond proactively to the issues in higher education we will face in the next decade,” said Secretary of Education Matthew Malone.”At the same time it allows us to celebrate achievements by our campuses and by the Patrick Administration. There are many points of progress contained in this report, and I am proud that our public colleges and universities share a vision for the future.”

     “Degrees of Urgency: Why Massachusetts Needs More College Graduates Now,” was released this morning before a group of 275 business and civic leaders gathered at the Boston Foundation.  The report outlines system and campus-level achievements aligned with the Vision Project goal of leading nationally among state systems of public higher education.

  • Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Utah and Oregon make up the Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Learning Outcomes

    Change Magazine Publishes Story on Vision Project Work in Student Learning Outcomes Assessment

    Highlights model for statewide assessment based on use of AAC&U rubrics, developed in partnership with 22 Massachusetts public campuses
    Key Outcome 3 is Student Learning

    June 6—Recently Pat Crosson, DHE's Senior Advisor for Academic Policy, and Bonnie Orcutt, DHE's Director of Student Learning Outcomes Assessment, were invited by the editor of Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning to prepare an article about the work in Massachusetts to develop a statewide program of student learning outcomes assessment that does not rely on standardized testing. The article, which also covers the initial work of the Multi-State Collaborative piloting a model, has now been published online and in hard copies of Change.

    With support from the Davis Education Foundation, and in collaboration with 22 public campuses, in 2012–2013 the DHE developed and pilot-tested a Massachusetts plan for statewide learning outcomes assessment based on use of the Association of American Colleges & Universities’ LEAP (Liberal Education & America's Promise) VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) Rubrics for written communication, quantitative literacy, and critical thinking. Also with Davis support, Massachusetts developed a partnership with eight other states, the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO), and AAC&U: the Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Learning Outcomes Assessment. Currently underway in all nine states, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is a pilot test of a learning outcomes assessment model that provides useful information for campuses and a basis for comparisons and public reporting on student learning that is essential for the Vision Project. For Massachusetts, this is our second pilot study of the plan for statewide assessment. Many faculty members, academic and assessment leaders, and campus presidents in Massachusetts and other states have been part of this effort, and it has received national attention as an alternative to standardized testing in higher education.

    >> Read the article (Free for Change subscribers; at a fee for non-subscribers)

  • Nurse helping an elderly man

    Facing Shortages, MA Board of Higher Ed Approves Workforce Plans for Technology, Health Care Sectors

    Workforce development plans enhance educational opportunities for students and meet employer expectations
    Key Outcome 4 is Workforce Alignment

    June 17—Citing the need to address shortages of skilled employees in two distinctly different, high-demand industries—technology and home health care—the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (BHE) has approved new workforce development plans to enhance educational opportunities for students and meet employer expectations, the Department of Higher Education announced today.

    Technology Talent Initiative Workforce Plan

    The Technology Talent Initiative Workforce Plan (.PDF)  is the first comprehensive statewide assessment of the technology sector’s workforce requirements, offering a detailed analysis of the scope and scale of the technology talent gap and the role of the public higher education system in addressing shortages.

    “This report demonstrates that there is a critical gap between the number of degrees granted in Computer Science and Information Technology at our public (campuses), and the current and projected growth in jobs requiring those credentials,” according to the report accepted by the Board. “Data suggest that, in the aggregate, degree-granting in these fields should double to fill the gap in qualified talent.”

    Allied Health Direct Care Workforce Plan

    At its last meeting of the year at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston (MassArt), the BHE also approved the  Massachusetts Allied Health Direct Care Workforce Plan to create “stackable credentials” for workers in community-based settings. The largely female direct care workforce includes certified nurse assistants, medical assistants, personal care and home health aides, who typically work in low-wage, non-benefitted positions.

    “These are people who are on the new front lines of our health care system,” ” said David Cedrone, Associate Commissioner for Economic and Workforce Development. “We need to grow this workforce and provide them with educational pathways that allow them to acquire credentials that ‘stack’ to for-credit college courses, certificates, and degrees.”

    Both plans build upon the Department of Higher Education’s innovative approach to workforce development, based on the creation of sector-specific workforce plans in collaboration with industry leaders, local employers, and campuses. The first of these plans focusing on the nursing profession led to the creation of the Nursing Education Transfer Compact (NETC), which supports attaining the goal of 66% of Massachusetts nurses holding Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees by 2020.

    Photo courtesty MyFuture.com

  • Westfield State nursing students participated in an international public health mission to Santa Maria de Jesus, Guatemala in March 2014.

    MA Board of Higher Education Adopts Nation’s 1st Statewide Civic Learning Policy for Public Campuses

    Community Colleges, State Universities, UMass Campuses to Deepen Focus on Preparing Students for Engaged Citizenship
    Key Outcome 5 is Civic Learning

    May 8—The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (BHE) has adopted a first-in-the-nation policy on civic learning for public college and university students and will work with the Commonwealth’s community colleges, state universities and University of Massachusetts campuses to incorporate civic learning as an "expected outcome" for undergraduate students beginning in the 2014-15 academic year, the Department of Higher Education announced today.

    "With this vote the BHE urges Massachusetts' public campuses to reaffirm a shared commitment to the civic learning which is essential if students are to meet their future responsibilities as citizens," said Richard M. Freeland, Commissioner of Higher Education. "This work is at the core of our mission in higher education. It is a commitment that I believe should be met with urgency.”

    “This is such an important development both for Massachusetts and for the entire nation,” said Carol Schneider, President of the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U). “In the last few decades, even as more and more Americans have enrolled in higher education, policy leaders have fallen silent on the way college can and should help ensure a strong future for democracy. We have long needed determined leadership to make civic learning in college just as important as preparation for careers. Massachusetts is showing us the way forward by reconnecting college, careers and civic vitality.”

    > Download the Policy on Civic Learning

    Photo: Westfield State nursing students participated in an international public health mission to Santa Maria de Jesus, Guatemala in March 2014. The goal was to supplement the classroom experience with public health field work addressing the issues of affordability and healthcare. Photo Courtesy David Fried/Westfield State University.

  • MA Board of Higher Education Votes to Improve Math Remediation, Create New Math “Pathways” of Study

    Trustees Encourage Campuses to Align Math Instruction With Students’ Career Goals
    Key Outcome 1 is Participation

    December 10—With 38% of public college and university students enrolled in non-credit remedial coursework during their first semester in college, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education has voted to encourage campus efforts to improve remedial math education, create new academic pathways for math instruction, and increase the number of students who are prepared to finish college and enter the workforce, the Department of Higher Education announced today.

    The Board approved a series of pilot initiatives, part of the Board’s Vision Project strategic agenda for public higher education, aimed at helping students advance more quickly to credit-bearing courses while obtaining the skills needed for college-level work. A task force convened by Higher Education Commissioner Richard M. Freeland reported in October that of the 11,000 community college students who took remedial math in fall 2010, 9,000 have yet to pass a credit-bearing math course. In Massachusetts, 60% of community college students, 22% of state university students, and 10% of UMass students take at least one remedial course, with the need for math remediation significantly outpacing that in writing and reading. Research indicates that students who are enrolled in remedial courses are much less likely to graduate from college.

    >> Read the full press release