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Mass. program Romney lauded is limited, largely ignored

Mitt Romney greeted supporters during a rally in Henderson, Nev., about 10 miles east of Las Vegas.

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Mitt Romney greeted supporters during a rally in Henderson, Nev., about 10 miles east of Las Vegas.

Mitt Romney spoke with pride during Monday’s presidential debate about a scholarship program that offers high-achieving Bay State students “a four-year, tuition-free ride at any Massachusetts public institution of higher learning,” but the awards cover only a fraction of students’ total costs and most recipients turn them down.

And while Romney said the scholarships go to students who rank in the top quarter of their high school classes, his original proposal would have awarded scholarships to students who scored in the top 25 percent statewide on the MCAS — a criterion that favored white, suburban students.

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President Obama challenged Romney’s assertion he was responsible for the scholarships, saying “that happened before you came into office.” In fact, the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship was Romney’s idea. He unveiled the program during his State of the State address in January 2004, and the first awards went to high school graduates in 2005.

Though Romney undoubtedly deserves the credit for introducing the scholarship program, the awards are not as generous as the phrase “tuition-free ride” suggests.

In-state undergraduate tuition at UMass Amherst, the state’s flagship public university, is only $1,714 this year — unchanged since the Adams scholarships were first given — but the total cost of attendance is $23,167. The Adams scholarship covers just 7 percent of total costs.

A frugal student who enrolled at a less expensive school, like Worcester State University, and who commuted from home to save on room and board would still be responsible for 88 percent of total costs. The Adams scholarship would pay for tuition, $970, but not for $7,187 in fees.

Seventy-five percent of Adams scholarship recipients turn down the awards, according to the Executive Office of Education.

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In 2004, the Legislature rejected Romney’s version of the scholarship program, which he included in his budget proposal for the following fiscal year. But Romney circumvented lawmakers by winning passage by the state Board of Higher Education. The board originally accepted Romney’s requirement that scholarship winners rank among the top quarter of statewide scorers on the MCAS. A Globe analysis at the time showed that in an affluent district, like Dover-Sherborn, two-thirds of all graduates would earn Adams scholarships while even the valedictorian at Hyde Park High School would not.

Seven months after adopting Romney’s plan, the Board of Higher Education amended it to include students whose scores placed them among the top 25 percent in their own districts. Romney agreed to the change but stipulated that recipients earn an “advanced” score on at least one section of the MCAS and “proficient” scores on all others. - CALLUM BORCHERS

Attleboro firm’s Bain ties in spotlight as it sends Ill. plant’s work to China

Sensata Technologies Inc., a Bain Capital investment that is based in Attleboro, has become political fodder this past week over the issue of shipping jobs to China.

The manufacturer of electronic sensors and control devices employs about 900 people in Attleboro. But 1,100 miles away, in Freeport, Ill., it is shutting down a plant, letting go of 170 workers, and sending that work to China. Workers have been protesting the shutdown and arguing for better severance pay; several people have been arrested.

Sensata’s spokespeople say the employees have known since last year that the plant was going to be shut down. But the closure, say critics of Republican nominee Mitt Romney, is a dark piece of the legacy of his years running Bain in Boston. The Rev. Al Sharpton visited workers protesting at the plant over the weekend. And on Monday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to workers and watched the presidential debate with them at an encampment they’re calling “Bainport.”

The company was not named during Monday’s presidential debate, but outsourcing of jobs was broached when the discussion turned to China.

“China can be our partner,’’ Romney said, “but that doesn’t mean they can just roll all over us and steal our jobs on an unfair basis.’’

“Well, Governor Romney’s right, you are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas, because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas,’’ Obama retorted.

Zoe Bridges-Curry, a spokeswoman for a coalition of labor and other groups supporting the workers, said Romney’s vow to be tough with China is hypocritical. “He still has ties to and is profiting from companies that are outsourcing to China right now,’’ Bridges-Curry said.

Bain bought Sensata in 2006, four years after Romney no longer owned the firm, for $3 billion from Texas Instruments Inc. Bain still owns about half of Sensata’s stock and occupies seats on the company’s board. Romney, through various investment vehicles, has holdings in Sensata.

Romney’s campaign said he is ready to tackle the problems of outsourcing and trade imbalance as soon as he assumes office. “The president has powers no one in the private sector has to level the playing field with China, and President Obama has failed to use them. As president, Mitt Romney will,” said a spokeswoman, Michele Davis.

Sensata still does some manufacturing in the United States, including in Attleboro, officials said, but its customers are increasingly in Asia. The company said it reaps 75 percent of its revenues there.

“We operate in a competitive marketplace,’’ said Jacob Sayer, a spokesman for Sensata. “That often means following our customers into different geographies.” - BETH HEALY

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