Tuesday, December 13, 2022

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Hildreth Institute Advocates for Massachusetts to Reinvest in Public College Students


Director of Local Higher Education Research and Policy Institute Testifies at Board of Higher Education Meeting

BOSTON – Bahar Akman Imboden, PhD., Managing Director of the Hildreth Institute (HI), a nonprofit focused on addressing systemic inequities within higher education through action-based research and policy work, testified at today’s meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, calling on the state to commit to significant investment and reform to the way it supports students at the state’s public higher education institutions. 

“As the purchasing power of state financial aid has continued to erode, students are facing burdensome levels of unmet need – the costs beyond tuition and fees like books, Internet and computer access, housing, and transportation,” said Bahar Akman Imboden, PhD., Managing Director of the Hildreth Institute. “We are pleased to see the Board of Higher Education make some strong, student-centric recommendations – in particular, the call to double state-funded financial aid by expanding the MASSGrant Plus scholarship program to reach more students and cover a portion of students’ unmet need.”

The Board released a set of recommendations today, calling for reforms and reinvestment in the state’s public higher education system to make it more equitable and to address key priorities including persistent education and graduation gaps, changing student demographics, and the rising cost of higher education.

Highlights of these recommendations include:

  • Doubling the investment in state-funded financial aid and expanding MASSGrant Plus to serve more students;
  • Providing low-income students at public institutions with a $2,000 stipend to cover costs outside of tuition and fees, including textbooks, housing, childcare, food, etc.; 
  • Increasing and reforming institutional investment from the state so that it takes into account the true needs of students being served; and
  • Making the public college cost structure more transparent for students and families by requiring at least 90 percent of costs to be from tuition (instead of the status quo where low tuition is combined with high mandatory fees). 

The recommendations, presented on Tuesday by Board of Higher Education Chairman Chris Gabrieli, include increasing state-funded financial aid from the current $200 million to $400 million annually.

As HI reported earlier this year, chronic state underfunding of public higher education in Massachusetts has led to widespread increases in tuition and fees – with those at the state’s community colleges increasing by 52 percent and those at four-year public universities increasing by 59 percent over the past 20 years. During these same years, average household income in the state rose only 13 percent. 

Supporting students through state-funded financial aid is an increasingly important component to ensuring economic mobility for the state’s most underrepresented and disenfranchised residents. While other states have made significant investments in financial aid in recent years, Massachusetts has cut funding by 47 percent since 2000.

According to HI’s research, most students report that growing unmet need – the cost of attending college outside of tuition and fees – is the reason getting a degree is becoming increasingly unattainable. 

“While this is an important step in the right direction, we need to identify ways to fully eliminate the unmet need of students,” continued Dr. Akman Imboden. “Students looking to graduate from our public colleges and universities shouldn’t be forced to take out burdensome loans or work excessively to cover unmet need, including the basics that many of their peers are able to take for granted – like housing, transportation, and access to the Internet and a reliable computer.”

Last year, the Board of Higher Education, working with EY-Parthenon, launched a strategic review of public higher education financing in Massachusetts with a focus on how it compares to other states and to identify areas for reform. 

The Board conducted this review with the understanding that the approach to state funding of public higher education in Massachusetts has not kept pace with the tremendous changes experienced by both institutions and students across the state’s higher education landscape. 

The EY-Parthenon/Board of Higher Education report can be found here.

Dr. Akman Imboden’s full testimony can be found here.

Dr. Akman Imboden is available to comment on the Board’s recommendations and the need for Massachusetts to invest in public college students.


The Hildreth Institute is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to restoring the promise of higher education as an engine of upward mobility for all. We believe that all students should be able to obtain a high-quality, zero-debt postsecondary education. At Hildreth Institute, we fight for zero-debt college because we believe that student loans are not the right financial aid tool for our students or their families. We need to move to a zero-debt system that makes high-quality college affordable to all, without leaving students mired in debt.