Neal Abraham, executive director of the Five Colleges, Inc. breaks down plans to develop new programs

By Angela Hilsman

As costs and requirements for both schools and students go up, Executive Director Neal Abraham of the Five Colleges, Inc., brainstorms to bring innovative programs to campus without the financial burden. 

Abraham is working with the Five Colleges to form a research ethics training program. He says that since the federal government will soon require any researcher supported by federal funding to have formal training in research ethics, a collaboration effort between the schools would be less costly than having each set up its own training.     

Abraham believes this requirement will be “a good thing.”  He notes that “It highlights the importance of ethical practice in providing a credible outcome for research endeavors.” Abraham adds that since students, faculty members, postdoctoral scholars and graduate students at all five colleges will need this training, “It makes sense to develop in-person and on-line programs that will benefit all five institutions with a minimum of redundant work.”

“Both the colleges and the University are exploring the development of five-year programs and fifth-year programs that will provide enhanced educational opportunities for undergraduate students and which will lead to enhanced credentials,” said Abraham. These programs prepare students for additional studies in graduate or professional programs, or train them for careers. 

Abraham said these programs are “an opportunity to blend a liberal arts education with professional opportunities.” He notes that the colleges are considering ways to bridge students from their arts programs into graduate studies in a five-year program because many students are not able to assemble enough of a portfolio in just four years.

Some of these five or fifth-year programs will accelerate the degree process by allowing students to finish in one year instead of two. Others allow students to receive graduate credit for courses they complete in their first four years. 

According to Abraham, the five institutions are discussing the development of their five or fifth-year programs either through joint action or parallel action to reduce duplication. “Building on combined resources and interest should result in stronger programs,” says Abraham. 

Abraham hopes to have 10 to 20 of these five or fifth -year programs launched in the next year or two.  

These are not the only goals on Abraham’s list. “There is a long list of ‘Five Colleges’ endeavors,’” he said. He continued saying that the Five Colleges have “a broad array of programs and scholarships,” including 22 joint faculty appointments. This means that faculty members based at one campus regularly teach on other campuses.

Also, the Five College Center for the Study of World Languages is available to students, and this program offers languages that would not otherwise be available on any of the five campuses. Plus, over 350 women’s studies scholars work within the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center. 

The Five Colleges also have joint dance and astronomy departments, and also hold joint library services. According to Abraham, these services are the longest running and most elaborate joint programs. 

Abraham said the Five Colleges are working on more ways to promote collaboration as well as financial support for their efforts. “Some foundations provide funding for exploring collaboration,” he said, pointing out that the Mellon Foundation has supported many Five College joint programs. 

“We will continue to look for other opportunities,” said Abraham. “It’s unreasonable to imagine there will be less change in the next 20 years than there was in the last 20.”

According to Abraham, his position as the executive director of the Five Colleges program requires him to provide “strategic leadership for the collaborative, coordinated and integrated endeavors of the member institutions.”

The Five Colleges program includes the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College and Smith College.

 Angela Hilsman can be reached at [email protected]