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October 29, 2014

(Courtesy of Massachusetts Department of Higher Education).

Massachusetts will need to graduate more college students to meet a growing demand for skilled workers. That's the finding of a report released Tuesday by the Department of Higher Education. 

The report, called "Degrees of Urgency," finds by 2020 the number of high school graduates in Massachusetts will shrink by 9 percent. Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland calls it the perfect storm.

"We are facing a situation of declining enrollments in public higher education, at the very moment the state needs more college-educated workers," said Freeland.

Listen to our full interview with Commissioner Freeland on the "Degrees of Urgency" report and the state of public higher education in Massachusetts: 

This year marks the first time in ten years that Massachusetts public colleges and universities have seen a decline in enrollment. And, the report predicts, in six years almost three quarters of jobs in the state will require some kind college credentials. 

Freeland says more needs to be done to enroll students in public higher education, or the state could fall behind.

"We can reach out to sectors of the population that are not taking advantage of higher education today and get them back into school," said Freeland. 

There are some glimmers of hope. For example, the graduation rate gap between white students and Latino students at state colleges is narrowing.

With the release of this latest report, the Massachusetts Commission on Higher Education is launching a campaign to increase state funding for public colleges and universities by an additional $685 million. The state has defunded higher education for the past six years, dropping funds overall by 14 percent. 

Commissioner Freeland says the ultimate goal is for Massachusetts' public higher education system to be a national leader. Today, students at state schools make up 52 percent of all Massachusetts undergraduates.

Massachusetts higher education is well-known for its private schools, like Harvard, MIT, Northeastern and Amherst. Still, the University of Massachusetts system consists of five schools in Boston, Amherst, Lowell, Worcester and Dartmouth, and there are nine other state universities, including Bridgewater State, Fitchburg State and Framingham State.

public schools, increasing access and success

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