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Commissioner Visits

News Feature

News & Events

December 15, 2015

President Frederick W. Clark Jr. welcomed to campus Dr. Carlos Santiago, commissioner of higher education in the commonwealth, and accompanied him on a series of events across the campus where the commissioner spent six hours meeting with student leaders, community representatives, faculty and staff, and members of BSU’s board of trustees. The commissioner is scheduled to visit all 29 of the state’s public colleges and universities.

 

“Public Higher education is Massachusetts is seen as a really good value,” Dr. Santiago said. “It’s high quality and relatively low cost, and in January we’re going to announce a new program that will tell prospective students, ‘You can get a high quality education in four years and earn a bachelor’s degree at any of our Massachusetts colleges for $30,000 or less.’ Affordability is an issue we’re focusing on because right now we all know it’s a problem that has to be tackled.”

 

The visit kicked off with a noontime luncheon at Boyden Hall. There, President Frederick W. Clark Jr. introduced the commissioner to the gathered state and community leaders.

 

“This is a great privilege to for me to have the opportunity to introduce Commissioner Santiago to the people who are instrumental in making Bridgewater such an outstanding institution,” he said. In attendance were Brockton School Superintendent Kathleen Smith, Metro South Chamber of Commerce President Chris Cooney, State Rep. Angelo D’Emilia, United Way of Greater Plymouth County President Dennis Carman and Bridgewater Town Manager Michael Dutton. Also attending were Board of Trustee Chairman Eugene Durgin and BSU Chief of Staff Deniz Leuenberger.

 

In his comments, Dr. Santiago said, “President Clark and I started our new positions at just about the same time, but we’ve known each other for a much longer period and I’m not surprised but very impressed in how he’s already leading this university in so many new and exciting directions. Bridgewater’s future is indeed as bright as its past has been so distinguished.”

 

At an afternoon meeting attended by a dozen BSU student leaders, Dr. Santiago told them of his own challenging journey as an undergraduate.

 

“I was born in Puerto Rico, the son of two college graduates, and there was never a question about whether I was going to go on for a college degree,” he told them. “But I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do. My family insisted I study medicine but when I applied for admission to a dozen or so colleges, I listed my career goal as ‘long-distance truck driver.’ When I got to college I took all of the biology, physics and chemistry courses required for pre-med but I didn’t like them.” He continued, “Finally one day my faculty advisor suggested I take a course in economics just to fill the general education requirement. I did that and found my true calling. I loved economics and I switched majors. I couldn’t have been happier.”

 

The lesson, he told the students, is that “many of us need time to discover what we want to do with our lives, and with the world changing as rapidly as it is, and jobs being created every day in fields we didn’t know existed, there are vast opportunities awaiting those who are prepared to go after them.”

 

That was a theme Commissioner Santiago adopted in his presentations throughout the day including one with faculty, academic department chairs and staff held in the Heritage Room of the Maxwell Library. There, he said, “We know it is more important than ever to encourage the young people of our society to pursue higher learning in order to qualify for the jobs that have been created and will be created in the months, years and decades ahead.

 

“There is of course a long process involved in helping our children, starting in kindergarten, to acquire fully all of the proper learning techniques that will enable them to be full participants in the increasingly complex society of the future where their skills will be desperately needed and their talents most appreciated,” he continued.

 

 “Just to give one example of the challenges that we face is the fact that in traditionally underserved populations, studies show that children who are born below average birth weight start their lives at a deficit which reflects, first, in third-grade reading scores and reflects later in eighth-grade scores and in high school completion rates and – finally – then in the rate in which they go to college. We need to close those gaps by focusing on our youngest children who are in that pipeline. We have to make sure that we provide them with the academic support at every stage they need to be successful as adults.”

 

The commissioner offered examples of how to employ the strategies necessary to make the system work better.

 

“It is therefore crucial that our higher education institutions be linked closely with our K-12 institutions at every stage. I’m encouraged by the close ties that Bridgewater State University has developed with the school systems in the nearby cities of Brockton, New Bedford and Fall River because this is precisely the model that we need to replicate and expand statewide.”

 

There are multiple challenges ahead, he said.

 

“I want to share with you a statistic that, when I saw it, it made me cringe. In 2010 we had 12,000 students who were high school graduates who went into the community college system needing remediation. Two years later less than 2,000 had completed a credit-bearing course. What happened to these other 10,000 students? We don’t know. They’re off the grid. They didn’t go to another community college or to a four-year college. That’s such a huge loss for them and for our communities and our state. They disappeared. So we’re putting a lot of effort into improving remediation.”

 

The problem involved in remediation is well-understood, he said.

 

“One of the areas involving remediation we’re trying to tackle is the stigma associated with it. Students who need extra help are too often separated from their classmates and so they’re identified in a category that hurts their self-esteem and many of them just drop out to avoid the whole situation,” he said.

 

“Now, the issue is how do we make sure that the students who are graduating from our colleges are ‘college-ready’? That’s a conversation we need to continue to have if we’re going to solve the problem and make sure Massachusetts can support its enormous appetite for highly-skilled workers so that the companies and corporations that need those kind of people won’t go elsewhere to find them.”

 

The last stop of the commissioner’s BSU visit was an evening meeting where he was introduced by Eugene Durgin, chairman of the university’s board of trustees.

 

 

“This has been a very long day for Commissioner Santiago, but I know I speak for all of us when I say it’s been such a great pleasure to have him with us. We are truly delighted that he has had the chance to meet so many of members of our university family and they have had the chance to meet him and learn in detail how he sees our role in helping to promote educational excellence in the Commonwealth.” (Story and photos by David K. Wilson, ’71, University News & Media)