Like many college presidents, Michael Alexander (below) years ago forecast the perfect storm that is currently engulfing higher education.
That’s why the Lasell College chief started the Lower Cost Models for Independent Colleges Consortium two years ago, with financial help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The group of college officials already had been meeting informally since June 2015, but in January 2017 they set up a formal structure, with annual dues. The goal: to lower the colleges’ cost of attendance and strengthen their financial viability, by trying new models and approaches.
That launch took place before several school closure announcements in the region. Mount Ida College, a former member of Alexander’s consortium, is already gone – merger talks between Lasell and Mount Ida failed, and the Newton campus is now owned by UMass. On Friday, Newbury College in Brookline announced it would become the latest casualty.
Tuition costs have risen through the stratosphere, but fewer kids are going to college, compared to eight years ago. And public universities, by and large, have lost significant state funding over the past decade. The dynamics are putting pressure on Alexander and his consortium to come up with solutions.
Alexander might have found one at his Newton college. Called Lasell Works, participants’ tuition actually drops over their four years at the school. The catch? They have to live off-campus during their sophomore year, taking classes online and working a part-time job. The promise: Cumulative tuition savings of $22,000.
“They’re all taking basically the same courses, but they’re not here in the residence [hall],” Alexander says. “We save a lot of money. We’re passing the savings on to them.”
Lasell costs $52,000 a year, with room and board. Maybe that’s why 63 freshmen signed up for the semester that’s ending, the first time that the program has been in effect, Alexander says. He thought he would only attract 20 or so. Of course, things could change next year when those students are off-campus – they can still participate in college events, but might miss living and taking classes there.
One thing Alexander is certain of: Something needs to change in the approach to higher education. Other members in the consortium are awaiting the results of the Lasell Works initiative, he says, to see if it can be replicated. They’re also experimenting on their own campuses.
“These are a group of presidents who are interested not only in bemoaning that the business model is broken,” Alexander says, “but also in trying to figure out … the new business model.” — JON CHESTO
Behind the deal that will bring the PawSox to Worcester
For Worcester residents, this has already become the stuff of legend. But for the audience at the event that economic development agency MassEcon hosted last Wednesday — in an office tower 32 stories above the streets of Boston — much of what Pawtucket Red Sox president Charles Steinberg had to say about his team’s relocation plan was new.
Steinberg spoke of how his boss, PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino, tried in vain to land a deal with Rhode Island officials that could keep the baseball team in its namesake city. But eventually, Lucchino had to weigh other offers.
“There were 18 cities knocking on our door,” Steinberg said, Weymouth and Taunton among them.
Worcester stood out — in part because of the passion shown by its residents, and its leaders. Lucchino had previously received some 10,000 postcards asking him to move the team to Worcester. He tucked them away at the time because he was in exclusive talks to relocate in Pawtucket. In the second half of 2017, however, he started to take Worcester seriously.
Steinberg, the jocular yin to Lucchino’s taciturn yang, was initially worried about the potential move. In the Providence market, the PawSox are a big deal. The team risked being overshadowed in Massachusetts media by Boston’s pro sports teams. Plus, the new ballpark in Pawtucket would be a permanent billboard along I-95, while nothing in Worcester could provide that kind of highway exposure.
But Steinberg said he was bowled over by the reception the city gave his team. Worcester was willing to finance the costs of building the stadium — $100 million in bonds, to be paid back by a mix of rent from the team and taxes raised in the new Polar Park’s development district.
Steinberg tried to downplay the move’s impact on the team’s fan base — the two cities are 45 minutes away from each other. “It’s not a tale of two cities,” Steinberg says. “It’s a tale of one region.”
Left unsaid: Only one of those cities had the ability to borrow the money needed to seal a deal.
Steinberg joked that he’s been lucky to have a four-decade career in baseball, primarily working alongside Lucchino: “That’s not typically something that happens to someone who gets two hits in two years in Little League,” he said.
He once said as much to Ted Williams, the famed Red Sox slugger, late in Teddy Ballgame’s life. Both hits, Steinberg said, came in his second year in Little League. Williams then deadpanned, “Well, at least you showed improvement.” — JON CHESTO
Mass. Eye and Ear lobby now bears Herb Chambers’ name
Herb Chambers has always been impressed with the research and medical care that takes place at Massachusetts Eye and Ear.
The hospital’s forlorn old lobby? Well, that was another story.
“The front of the hospital didn’t line up with the back of the hospital,” the auto magnate says. “It looked like something that was out of the 1950s.”
Chambers had more than enough time to get familiar with it: He is a longtime patient who has been visiting the hospital for routine care following a surgery there that solved a problem he had with persistent ear infections. When officials approached him about a “naming rights” deal that would put his name on a newly renovated lobby, Chambers jumped at the chance.
Chambers agreed to donate $2 million to the hospital, over a 10-year period. Hospital president John Fernandez, who prefers to refer to the old lobby as “vintage,” says the hospital plans to distribute Chambers’ money for research projects over the next decade. Fernandez and other hospital staff joined with board chairman Wyc Grousbeck, managing partner of the Boston Celtics, to unveil the “Herb Chambers Lobby” on Nov. 28.
“The renovations, I think they’re terrific,” Chambers says, noting the area is brighter, more modern, colorful. “The people going in there are not feeling good. If it’s drab, you’re not going to get much lift out of that. But when you walk in there now, it’s very uplifting.”
— JON CHESTO