In November, Massachusetts voters passed the Fair Share Amendment, generating a permanent revenue source for investment in transportation and public education. Now, AFT Massachusetts is joining with other supporters of public higher education across the state through the Higher Ed for All campaign to advocate that a significant portion of the funds generated from the Fair Share Amendment be invested in an affordable, high-quality public higher education system.
“With the passage of the Fair Share Amendment, Massachusetts has an opportunity to build a public higher education system that lives up to our values and prepares Massachusetts students to be active, engaged participants in their communities, the workforce, and our society,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “Students today are struggling with the cost of college and a lack of adequate support services, while adjunct educators struggle with low pay and limited benefits. Our public college campuses have insufficient funding to address crumbling buildings, rising student needs, and staffing shortages. We’re pleased to support the Higher Ed for All campaign to reverse the budget cuts that have occurred over the past several decades, and begin rebuilding a truly public state college and university system.”
Bill Hearing Shows Energy Behind Proposals to Transform Public College Funding
On Monday, September 18, AFT Massachusetts Secretary-Treasurer Brant Duncan, Grant O’Rielly, President of the UMass Faculty Federation at UMass Dartmouth, and Nick Gula, President of the AFTMA Maintainers at UMass Dartmouth, all testified before a hearing of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education in support of two bills that would transform our public higher education system for the better. The hearing was attended by dozens of energetic educators, students, and community members, and watched by supporters across the state, including at a UMass Dartmouth watch party.
One bill, known as the Cherish Act, would creates a framework for adequate public higher education funding levels, including expanded support for student services; ensure debt-free public higher education for all; improve wages and working conditions for faculty and staff, including benefits for adjunct faculty and part time staff; and invest in green and healthy public college and university buildings. The other, An Act to guarantee debt-free public higher education, would guarantee free public higher education as a right for all students, and create a grant program to pay the equivalent of tuition and mandatory fees to an eligible student at any Massachusetts public college or university.
A new report from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center analyzes these two proposals, and finds that they “would encourage students of all ages to attend public higher education institutions, while enabling them to avoid the exorbitant debt that many students currently take…This would create a more educated workforce, increase earnings, and smooth the path towards life milestones such as homeownership, starting a family, or pursuing graduate level education. In turn, these policies would help increase the economic strength of the entire Commonwealth, resulting in a more affordable and competitive state.”
State Budget Delivering Immediate Progress
The state’s FY24 budget, the first after passage of the Fair Share Amendment, begins the critical work of reinvesting in our public colleges and their students. Following advocacy from AFT Massachusetts and our partners in the Higher Ed for All campaign, the budget includes several new investments in public higher education, including:
- $84 million in Fair Share funds for expanded student financial aid.
- $50 million to support free community college across all campuses by the fall of 2024, including $38 million to fund free community college this fall for students 25 years of age and older or those pursuing nursing degrees.
- $50 million in Fair Share funds for additional one-time investment in capital improvements to public college campuses.
“This budget shows what Massachusetts can do when we focus on investing in our students and their families, and it provides a model that must be built on through legislation and in future annual budgets,” Kontos said. “While the budget makes notable investments in public higher education that will begin to make up for the devastating cuts our campuses have experienced over the past few decades, even greater funding will be required to achieve our goal of a fully-funded, fully debt-free public college system. If we want Massachusetts to be a place where every student is given the tools to succeed and thrive, we need to continue making new investments like this every year.”
The Higher Ed for All campaign lays out the blueprint for fully investing in our public colleges and universities, and transforming the current underfunded public higher education system into one that is high-quality and affordable for all.
About the Higher Ed for All Campaign
Higher Ed For All is advocating for fully funded community colleges, state universities and UMass campuses and proposes the following actions to knock down the barriers that too many potential college graduates encounter – and to create a public higher education system that demonstrates its respect for workers by providing fair wages and working conditions.
- Implement a debt-free college plan that covers not just tuition and fees but also living expenses, including food and housing.
- Expand existing programs that support student success and address staffing shortages.
- Promote the recruitment and retention of high-quality and experienced faculty and staff – and make it possible for them to meet the needs of their students, particularly those who face the most significant challenges.
- Return to the historic model of public funding for public buildings on college and university campuses and include faculty and staff when assessing campus needs.
Educators and staff at UMass Dartmouth, who have been advocating for greater state investment in Massachusetts’ public colleges for several years, are taking an active role in the Higher Ed For All campaign.
“As we move away from the worst of the COVID pandemic, the impacts of over a year away from the classroom are becoming more and more evident,” said Grant O’Rielly, President of the UMass Faculty Federation. “The absence of social contacts with their friends and peers, as well as missing frequent and meaningful interactions with teachers in their classes, have left students ill-prepared as they have returned to in-person learning. This is particularly true in colleges and universities where the need for support services in mental health counseling as well as quality academic tutoring (not just "homework help sessions") has increased significantly.”
“Additional resources are needed in each of these areas on campus to help ensure students can succeed in their classes and to allow college and university faculty to prepare students for success in the workforce after graduation,” he continued.
A study last year from the Hildreth Institute, a local higher education policy think tank, found that tuition and fees at the state’s public colleges and universities have increased at one of the fastest rates in the nation, drastically exceeding family incomes. Since 2000, median family income in Massachusetts has risen only 13%, but even after adjusting for inflation, tuition and fees at UMass Dartmouth have increased by 57% – a $6,205 price hike. That's the second largest hike in the UMass system (behind UMass Lowell at 59.6%).
At the same time as public college has become less affordable, campus budgets have failed to keep up with inflation, leading to cuts for programs students depend on. According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, per-student funding to public college campuses declined by $2,470 from 2011 to 2020.
“Especially after all they’ve been through over the past three years, our students deserve a safe and healthy learning environment,” said Nick Gula, President of the AFTMA Maintainers at UMass Dartmouth. “That means it’s important to have enough staff to provide clean and safe buildings. And that takes money.”
Learn more about the Higher Ed for All campaign here.
An Act to guarantee debt-free public higher education.
- Sponsors: Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and Representative Natalie Higgins (D-Leominister)
- Senate Bill 823 - House Bill 1265
- Establishes that it is state policy to guarantee free public higher education as a right for all students. Creates a grant program to pay the equivalent of tuition and mandatory fees to an eligible student at any Massachusetts public college or university.
An Act committing to higher education the resources to insure a strong and healthy public higher education system
- Sponsors: Senator Jo Comerford (D-Amherst) and Representative Sean Garballey (D-Arlington)
- Senate Bill 816 - House Bill 1260
- "CHERISH Act" creates a framework for adequate public higher education funding levels, including expanded support for student services; ensures debt-free public higher education for all; improves wages and working conditions for faculty and staff, including benefits for adjunct faculty and part time staff; and invests in green and healthy public college and university buildings.