North Shore College Connections – A Chat with Salem State University & Montserrat College of Art Leaders 

May 11, 2022 11:32 am

One of the roles of the North Shore Alliance is to stay on top of what’s going on in education in our region, state, and across the nation. To do this, it is helpful for us to connect with educational leaders to get a better sense of where we stand. 

In a recent North Shore Conversation, a weekly radio show produced by the North Shore Alliance for Economic Development and hosted by Laura Swanson, we had the opportunity to speak with two leaders in higher education: the President of Salem State University, John Keenan and Kurt Steinburg President of Montserrat College of Art

During our discussion, we focused our attention on three areas that are critical to the economic development of the North Shore of Massachusetts with a special scrutiny on the role of higher education. 

Salem State University Tour Challenges & Opportunities  

Both President Keenan and President Steinburg noted at the start of our radio broadcast how impressed they were with both students and faculty at their ability to turn on a dime at the outset of the pandemic to shift learning and teaching styles. 

They also noted that they are so happy and excited to see students returning to in-person learning as they are the life of both campuses. The shared approach to handling the hurdles of the pandemic was something that both leaders remarked was much appreciated by the institutions themselves, by municipal leaders, and the businesses in the surrounding area. 

As leaders of higher education institutions, they both acknowledged that there are challenges and opportunities going forward as the threat of covid-19 seems to be easing bit-by-bit. They described the challenges and opportunities in three main areas that are dependent upon one another like a three legged stool. 

“The 3 Legged Stool”  

President Keenan discussed the concept of the  “Three Legged Stool” that poses some challenges as the Commonwealth recovers from the global pandemic. This concept includes the idea that three components work in conjunction with each other. These components are education, transportation, and housing. 

One of the goals of attending an institution of higher education such as Salem State University or Montserrat College of Art is to keep talented and skilled individuals in the area as the future workforce for the North Shore. To do that successfully, there needs to be adequate transportation, affordable housing, and (of course) affordable education. 

The Presidents explained that 95% of the students who attend these local colleges tend to stay in the region after graduation, thus adding to the robust workforce we have here in the northeast corner of Massachusetts. With that being the case, it is more important than ever to address the issues with transportation and access to affordable housing. 

Some of the challenges that face transportation are that it is easier to travel from Salem or Beverly to Boston than it is to travel within the communities that make up the North Shore, say from Salem to Ipswich for example. That means that students and employees have difficulty finding work and access to transportation from other communities. Finding ways to increase bus stops and inter-town routes is imperative to getting skilled workers in the region. 

Similarly, the lack of affordable housing in the area is pushing many workers and students further away from this area. Opportunities for affordable housing like Harborlight are critical to keep the future workforce in our region. 

Where to Go From Here

In order to keep the workforce in our area both Presidents stressed the importance of maintaining the three components of that three legged stool. 

They want state leaders to continue to advocate for expanded public transportation routes that connect the smaller cities and towns, not just major routes. More financial aid investment and an increase in fundraising for scholarships to open up access to a college degree is also critical. They want elected officials and business leaders to advocate robustly for more access to housing and pressure to build more mid-tier and affordable homes as well as mortgage assistance.