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Higher calling

Boston College’s Philip Altbach offers five ways to keep Massachusetts on top in higher education
By RICCO VILLANUEVA SIASOCO  |  January 25, 2006

THE MAN WITH A PLAN: Altbach has some real ideas.There’s one word that Philip Altbach really wants you to understand: massification. What the heck is that, you ask? One of Governor Romney’s misguided schemes for the Commonwealth? The latest low-carb diet craze? Another of those hipster words like “metrosexual,” dreamed up by an aspiring reporter attempting to pin down a recent fad?

“Massification,” explains Altbach, Boston College’s Monan professor of higher education and director of the Center for International Higher Education, “is the growth in enrollment and access to colleges.”

The US has been a model of massification for the last 30 to 40 years, he says. Building enrollment and access to a college education opened doors not only for Americans, but international students as well. The best and brightest from countries at the “bottom end” of higher-education systems (China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, for example) came to the Hub to pursue their graduate studies.

So massification has been a good thing for Massachusetts, right?

Not if you’re an economist. Or a college administrator.

Today, we have to compete with these same countries to attract future intellectuals and homesteaders. Globalization has raised the stakes for New England’s economy. In a recent article for the journal Connection, Altbach notes that “other countries that have been the major providers of foreign students to the United States are now building research-focused universities.... They have more capacity for graduate study at home, and the academic quality of their institutions is improving.”

As we talk in his cozy office at Boston College, Altbach’s gaze remains clear and steady, his hands folded neatly in his lap. A stout man with silvery hair, Altbach has a soft smile akin to that of a relative most often found stoking the fire in the midst of the holiday hurrah. The fire he’s stoking now started with the kindling of his 40 years in higher education.

Beginning his career as a lecturer at Harvard in the ’60s, Altbach later brought his interest in the burgeoning study of higher education to the University of Wisconsin–Madison and SUNY Buffalo. He has also been a Fulbright scholar in India, Malaysia, and Singapore.

So what exactly is the state of higher education for Massachusetts? Here are five ideas that Philip Altbach proposes for cementing our role as the uncontested leader in grades 13 to 16.

One of Altbach’s recent studies, published in the journal Change, begins with this statistic: “At present about 2 million students worldwide study outside of their home countries, a number that a recent study suggests will increase to 8 million by 2025.” Hoping to capitalize on this trend, college administrators in Massachusetts are actively seeking scholars from abroad. It only makes sense: attracting international students is good business.

In another article, this time for the journal Connection, Altbach cites amazing figures for New England colleges and universities: 45,000 international students, a $1.2 billion boost to the economy. “Foreign students from India and China, for example — the majority who get graduate degrees in New England don’t go back. They stay here and work in local industries like bio-tech and medicine.” What’s good for the goose, as they say, is good for the gander.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Business, Education, Harvard University,  More more >
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