March 7, 2011

EDUCATING RITA and Obama's plan for US Community Colleges

contributed by Charles Haugland

Educating Rita starts previews this Friday, and in a fascinating coincidence, the subject of adult learners and continuing education is all over the news. 

In the play, Rita is a hairdresser who discovers a passion for learning and English Literature, and decides to take courses from the Open University, a kind of correspondence college that revolutionized education in England in the 1970s. The play follows her  challenging relationship with her course tutor Frank, a boozy and somewhat burnt-out professor. Rita stands for thousands of students in that era who took advantage of the Open University to go back to school and earn post-secondary degrees.

Just in the past month, we've seen related stories here today in America. I saw one in the Boston Metro today about how President Obama's Education advisors are forecasting a shortage of Americans with postsecondary training. They are holding a series of summits on how to meet that shortfall. At the first summit last week, Jamie Merisotis, president of Lumina Foundation for Education, spoke about how "community colleges are the on-ramp for students," particularly adult learners. Without college degrees, the Center on Education writes in a related report, 60 million students are "at risk of being locked out of the middle class."

Educating Rita is set in late 70s Britain, but you can see that this conversation about class and the importance of education continues, even here in the States. Just one way that Willy Russell's contemporary classic stays relevant. Hope to see you there.

To read more about President Obama's plan for community colleges, visit the Chronicle of Higher Education.  He is also visiting Dorchester tomorrow tomorrow to tour TechBoston Academy (click here for more info).

To read more about the Open University (the program Rita enrolls in), you can take a sneak peek at our program notes.

Willy Russell's Educating Rita, directed by Maria Aitken, plays March 11 — April 10, 2011 at the Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston. For more information or to buy tickets, visit our website or call the Box Office at 617 266-0800.

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