Raising Aspirations


Led by MCLA, the Berkshire Compact for Higher Education already is hard at work on one of President Barack Obama's charges to America: The group is encouraging area residents to go on to higher education.  But while President Obama urges Americans to complete at least one year of college or vocational training beyond high school, the goal of the Compact is to have Berkshire County residents complete 16 years of education.

Launched three years ago to access the educational needs of 21st century Berkshire County, this county-wide effort set four goals: to raise the educational aspirations of all Berkshire County residents; to improve access to higher education, training and lifelong learning; to advance technology within Berkshire County; and to develop a new social contract among employers, residents, and educational institutions to encourage learning and civic engagement.

The Compact involves a committed group of education, civic, and business leaders, including the entire Berkshire Legislative Delegation; the mayors of both Pittsfield and North Adams; a range of employers, including cultural institutions, finance, healthcare and specialty manufacturers; educators; municipal officials; and representatives of nonprofit organizations.

Last April, sixth-graders from throughout Berkshire County visited MCLA and other local colleges for the inaugural Berkshire County Goes to College Day. While on campus, the youths fed sea anemones, created a mock television studio, observed chemistry demonstrations and visited dormitories - all of which gave them a first-hand perspective on what college is like.

In addition, through the Fast-Track program, busy adults can earn a college degree through an accelerated pace of study, flexible enrollment and more convenient course scheduling. Early this year, MCLA partnered with Berkshire Community College and the City of Pittsfield to open the Intermodal Education Center in downtown Pittsfield. This space eliminates significant barriers - such as accessibility, convenience, and transportation - to completing a degree.

"The Berkshire Compact is a long-term effort," said MCLA President Mary K. Grant, Compact founder. "We will continue to offer new programs, and to refine existing programs, until this county is fully able to take advantage of the opportunities of the 21st century. It is a long-term commitment we have made, and it is a critical one."