State representative, Leominster Democrat, former executive director of Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts
I am a proud first-generation college student, and graduate of UMass Amherst. My younger brother earned his associate’s degree from MassBay Community College. Thanks to our parents’ dedication to make sure we had more opportunities than they had, we earned our degrees without taking on student debt.
Our story is not the norm. The average graduate in Massachusetts is left with a student loan burden of $33,256. Graduates in Massachusetts who attended a public institution are more likely to incur student debt, and in higher amounts relative to their college costs, than those who attended private ones. The average student debt grew faster in Massachusetts than in all but one other state from 2004-2016, and more than 855,000 Massachusetts residents owe student debt.
Debt-free public higher education was a reality for the majority of Massachusetts students as late as 1988 (the year I was born), when the MassGrant covered 80 percent of tuition and fees at public institutions. Today, the maximum MassGrant covers less than 14 percent of tuition and fees at UMass Amherst. And higher education funding has not recovered since sharp cuts in 2001, with per student funding down 32 percent and student scholarships also dropping 32 percent between 2001-2018. A UMass Amherst student has to work more than 23 hours per week, just to cover tuition and mandatory fees, never mind the other costs of attendance, such as housing, food, textbooks, and transportation. Just adding room and board brings that to 44 hours each week.
Debt-free public higher education is an important investment in our communities. Among Massachusetts high school graduates who attend college, 62.6 percent choose a public college or university. Ninety percent of public higher education graduates stay in Massachusetts, according to 2014 figures. This is also an equity issue. While more than 43 percent of Massachusetts residents hold a bachelor’s degree, many Gateway Cities have college completion rates half that, including Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, and Lawrence. Massachusetts is home to one of the nation’s highest-paid workforces because of college attainment, and we need to ensure Massachusetts residents in low-income communities and communities of color have that same access.
Read the full article: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/10/22/metro/should-massachusetts-public-colleges-universities-be-tuition-free/