(Letter sent to all MA legislators and also published by WGBH)
As a state that prides itself on the excellence of its higher education, Massachusetts falls far behind the rest of the country in aiding low-income students. The evidence suggests we have abandoned our commitment to helping low-income students in their quest for a college degree.
Let’s go through the facts:
- The state’s major need-based scholarship, the MASSGrant, once covered 80% of the cost of our public universities. It now covers only 9%.
- The state’s major merit aid program, the Abigail Adams Scholarship, has shrunk in cost coverage from 16% to 9% over the last 10 years.
- Since 2001, appropriations for higher education decreased by 32 percent per student.
- Since 2001, total state scholarship funding per student decreased by 32 percent.
- We rank a dismal 36th among states, 16% below the U.S. average, in higher education spending.
Governor Baker’s newest initiative, the Commonwealth Commitment, is meant to create a path for an affordable public higher education by providing a tuition rebate and an easy transfer from community college to a four-year state program. But its “commitment” is in name only. The requirements of the program are so stringent that only 120 students are estimated to meet the requirements out of a total student body of 260,000.
In addition, the full-time enrollment requirement of the Commonwealth Commitment demonstrates a woeful ignorance of the everyday struggles students and their families face today. Currently, 81% of community college students work, for an average of 30 hours per week. For the vast majority of students, the program’s 10% rebate is not financially substantial enough to alleviate the need to work more than a part-time job.
With his new proposal, Baker is proposing a modest increase of $7 millionfor in state scholarship funds to cover tuition and fee costs for community college students who qualify for Pell Grants. While this will help meet the urgent needs of struggling students, it is woefully inadequate considering how underfunded our community colleges are. Baker had also signaled that some additional $14 million could be extended to state universities, but unfortunately it is not part of his final budget. Our public colleges and universities deserve adequate funding as an affordable higher education is critical to the success of our commonwealth.
Over the past 12 years, I’ve founded three non-profit organizations with complementary missions to get low-income students to college. Students in communities all across Massachusetts are deeply committed to pursuing their education, and their families are committed to helping them succeed, but they can’t do it alone. Decreased state support is leaving far too many students behind.
As you begin your budget deliberations, the families of the Commonwealth need you to recommit yourself to providing student aid at much higher levels.
Specifically, please consider taking the following steps, which would merely bring Massachusetts up to average levels of state funding for higher education:
- Increase MassGrant scholarship funds by $100,000,000. Massachusetts’ average grant award is just $657. To reach the national average of $2,405, the state would need to increase MassGrant funding by approximately $100,000,000, as 50,000 students receive this grant.
- Increase state appropriations for the public higher education systems by $400,000,000. This would bring Massachusetts up to the national average of $10,381 per FTE student for those enrolled in a 4-year public institution, and $7,189 per FTE student for those enrolled in a 2-year public institution.
- Allocate $20,000,000 to reestablish the Public Higher Education Endowment Incentive Program. Established under Section 15E of chapter 15A, this program authorized a matching ratio of 1-to-2, which was capped at $50 million for the five-campus UMass system, $5 million per institution for state universities, and $1 million each for community colleges. It was incredibly successful, but the funding has since lapsed. “An Act relative to the endowment match program” (H.1201/H.1228/S.753) would reestablish it.
With these steps, we can change directions and begin to restore Massachusetts’ commitment to students.
Founder, Hildreth Institute, Inversant, and La Vida Scholars