I just came across an article I wrote for CommonWealth magazine just after Mitt Romney became governor of Massachusetts.
It’s about how Romney had turned to his old friends at Bain & Co. to tell him where and how to cut the state’s public college and university system. The number crunchers at Bain went to work and, as might be expected, looked only at the numbers and not the people, and not at even what the real mission of a very good public institution of higher learning, such as Fitchburg State, was all about.
The number crunchers recommended that Fitchburg State be closed. In the end, Romney stopped short of accepting that recommendation, but did call for merging Fitchburg State with Mount Wachusett Community College — a proposal many of Fitchburg State’s supporters thought would be just as bad as closing it. Fitchburg State also received a lot of undeserved, negative publicity as a result of Bain’s PowerPoint analysis.
I think the article provides some insight into how a company like Bain makes decisions about which companies in the private sector will be allowed to live and which will die, who will be laid off, and which services will be outsourced or sent off shore.
As the article notes, even Bain’s number crunching exercise involving Fitchburg State wasn’t all that well thought out, however. The numbers appeared to show, for instance, that Fitchburg State was spending more than the median level among state colleges in “non-instructional” costs on a per-student basis. Bain’s analysis, however, apparently failed to take into account the fact that Fitchburg State had just been hit disproportionately hard by declining enrollment due to higher state admissions standards. During a later uptick in enrollment at the college, the cost per student fell.
Bain also reportedly failed to take into account more than 1,000 students who began school after the fall cutoff date in measuring enrollment figures. Had they done so, Fitchburg’s State’s cost per student would have dropped to the middle range of state colleges, according to the Fitchburg State’s then interim president, Michael Rivard.
Bain also cited Fitchburg State for having a below-average graduation rate. However, Rivard maintained that the 42 percent graduation rate at Fitchburg State was the third highest among the nine comprehensive state colleges in Massachusetts in 2000. (In its Spring 2003 journal Connection, the New England Board of Higher Education placed Fitchburg State 18th out of 40 New England public institutions in graduation rate in 2000.)
When Romney became governor of Massachusetts, he was no longer with Bain. But I think it says something that when Romney was faced with the task of finding savings in the state’s public higher education system, he turned to Bain rather than his administration to find those savings.
This certainly seems to says something about how he’d govern as president.