NORTH ADAMS -- Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts had much to celebrate during its traditional opening breakfast Tuesday, including two new signs directing travelers to the college campus.
"We have a sign on Interstate 91. It's so great to get off of I-91 onto Route 2 and see the sign," President Mary K. Grant said, referring to a new exit sign listing the state university as a destination. "We also have a sign on the Mass Pike. Now when we have families traveling from the east and the west, they have hope. We don't tell them they still have another 100 miles to go We are on the map. We are on the move."
In addition to celebrating the new signs, she also spoke enthusiastically about the new incoming class of students -- 450 new and transfers students, including 10 students from China.
"We're already recruiting the class of 2018, so this is most likely the last time you'll see our admissions staff for a while," Grant joked.
But with all the opportunity for growth, there also will be challenges, she said, noting that opening the Center for Science and Innovation would add to the overall operational budget.
Other challenges, she said, include the national push to make college affordable for students, a topic state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, also spoke about.
"We have a great deal of work to do," he said. "For the first time in a long time, Massachusetts has begun to do what it hasn't done in a long time. We are starting to match our rhetoric to our reality. We have started to invest in public higher education again -- not only in infrastructure but in access. But we have a lot more work to do."
Downing said that as a community, the Berkshires must insist that any candidate who follows Gov. Deval Patrick into office continues to invest in public higher education, as it is good for the community, for economic development and a way to help combat the cycle of poverty.
"You need to hold us accountable," he said. "We need to make sure that anyone who works hard, plays by the rules and wants to go to a four-year institution of higher learning can do so and do so without being crushed by student debt."
Mayors Richard J. Alcombright of North Adams and David Bianchi of Pittsfield spoke of the college's importance to the region.
"It's an exciting time here. You have new students, injecting new life into the community," Bianchi said. "We talk about how important MCLA is to Northern Berkshire, but it's also important to Central Berkshire and Southern Berkshire. The things you do here have a tremendous impact on the economic development of this county."
Other speakers included state Rep. Gailanne M. Cariddi, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Supranowicz, Board of Trustees Chairman Tyler Fairbank, collective bargaining representatives and student leaders.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email