Thank you Chairs Gobi and Rogers, Vice Chairs Comerford and Gentile, and members of the Joint Committee on Higher Education for the opportunity to share my research findings in support of An Act to guarantee debt-free public higher education.

I am Bahar Akman Imboden, the managing director of Hildreth Institute, a research and policy center dedicated to creating an equitable higher education system.

The pandemic has exposed the financial vulnerability of our country, and its deep racial inequalities. While we work to reboot our economy from the coronavirus fallout, we must leverage education’s potential to create an inclusive economy, redressing racial and gender inequalities. 

Higher education is a great equalizer when it’s accessible and affordable. There are powerful links between an educated nation and an increase in productivity, innovation, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement. 

In the last decade, my research shows that twenty-two States have enacted tuition-free college programs. Many more are being proposed. 

Massachusetts is falling behind in providing an affordable path to obtaining a public higher education credential. Research from our colleagues at MAssBudget shows that students graduating from our public institutions are borrowing similar amounts to those attending private schools here in MA. 

This program will not only guarantee all Massachusetts residents tuition-free public degrees, but also provide additional grant money for Pell eligible students who still have unmet need to cover costs beyond tuition.

This proposal is backed by research that shows that for thousands considering a higher education credential, the concern is not only how to pay for tuition and fees but also how to afford other necessities like textbooks, a computer, software and Internet access, housing, food, and transportation.

It is to cover these ‘costs beyond tuition’ that so many students have to work excessively while studying, often having to attend part-time, and it is also why they have to borrow excessive amounts of debt.

Some might argue that the cost of such program would be prohibitive, however research from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce show that the amount of tax revenue associated with the increase in college attainment would exceed the program’s cost within 10 years—that it would in fact pay for itself.

As we emerge from the pandemic and rebuild our economy, we cannot continue to saddle future generations with more student debt. We must ambitiously re-invest in our higher education system to ensure that it is the powerful engine of upward mobility that will help our economy recover inclusively. 

Thank you for considering my testimony, and I hope you will give a favorable report to An act to guarantee debt-free public education.