On Monday, May 22, as Assistant Vice Chair of Ways and Means, I spoke – during opening speeches – to the historic investment in higher education outlined in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 Senate Budget proposal.
My remarks are included in full below. A video of my speech on the Senate floor is available here: https://youtu.be/K_3ulJchbWU
I rise today for the great and unparalleled equity engine that is public higher education.
I rise for access. For affordability. I rise in support of tackling the daunting debt holding back rising generations.
I rise to honor the public workers – staff and faculty – of our state’s excellent public higher education institutions.
Last week I was at Greenfield Community College with Higher Education Commissioner Noe Ortega and GCC college President Michelle Schutt. We talked candidly about the power of public higher education to radically transform a person. A family. A community’s trajectory.
We talked about necessary efforts to strip away barriers to access and success. About work to wrap around services and supports that account for the total cost of college – in order to see a student through to completion.
The promise of this work – is limitless.
Limitless. Sort of like the view from the towering W.E.B. Du Bois library at UMass Amherst – a beacon calling the Commonwealth to remember Dr. Du Bois’ searing call to action, “Of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for 5,000 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental.”
The right to learn.
To our collective peril, this right to learn – the Commonwealth’s investment in this engine of equity – has been eroding for far too long.
In national rankings we have lingered with states devoting the least amount of public dollars to public colleges and universities – resulting in tuition and fees increasing faster than family income, and financial aid not nearly keeping pace with need.
Not surprisingly, this has resulted in fewer students enrolling in higher education.
Despite the number of high school graduates in Massachusetts increasing by 5% between 2013 and 2021, the number of students enrolling in colleges or universities after high school decreased over that same period of time.
More concerning still is the widening gap for students of color. For example, over the past five years, there has been a 22% decrease in Black student enrollment in our community colleges and a 9.5% decrease in Black student enrollment in our state universities.
Today – we – with this beautiful budget – are saying “no more” to this inequity. This widening gap. We are pairing a bold and historic investment of nearly $2 billion with transformative policy.
$683 million for the University of Massachusetts, an increase of over 19% compared to two years ago.
$348 million for the 15 community colleges.
$337 million for the nine state universities.
And there’s more:
The Senate’s commitment to mental health shines through with more than $4 million for student behavioral health in public higher education – targeted for crisis intervention and responses to sexual assault, substance use disorder services, and assistance for students struggling with stress, anxiety, or other mental health needs.
$275 million for scholarship programs which focus aid for low-income, in-state undergraduates at our colleges and universities. This includes $175 million for the MassGrant program, and an additional $100 million in new Fair Share revenue dedicated towards scholarships for students attending the Commonwealth’s public higher education institutions.
$125 million toward capital funding for campus infrastructure – a strong first step to address the multi-billion dollar backlog in deferred maintenance. The budget language emphasizes making our buildings green and healthy – with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system maintenance and decarbonization and clean energy projects among the top priorities.
$30 million in new Fair Share revenue funds for wraparound student services including academic support and case management – to begin breaking down the barriers to the total cost of attending college.
In addition, the budget allocates $14 million to the SUCCESS program – Supporting Urgent Community College Equity through Student Services. This provides vital wraparound support and services to improve outcomes for students who are low-income, first-generation, students of color, students living with disabilities, and LGBTQ students. The support includes peer mentors, academic skills workshops, field trips to 4-year schools, and targeted academic, career, transfer and scholarship advising.
The Senate President inspired us with an historic goal: Free community college for everyone in the Commonwealth.
Over the past months I have heard the President’s crystal clear conviction that community colleges are more important now than ever. They are rooted deeply in local communities, providing educational, vocational, and social resources for among the most marginalized. Those disproportionately ravaged by COVID.
President Spilka is also clear that these same colleges are also hubs of innovation – central to churning out class after class of students able to tackle complex and technical 21st century jobs, the bedrock of a thriving economy.
With this budget the Senate is all in, delivering $55 million to three initiatives to meet this goal:
One: $20 million to create MassReconnect, a new free community college program created by Governor Healey that fills in a financial gap for adults over 25 without a college degree.
Two: $20 million for a free community college program for nursing students to address a critical nursing shortage.
Three: The Senate allocates $15 million to plan and prepare to offer free community college for all by the fall of 2024. The funds will allow policymakers to work with community colleges to collect necessary data, research and develop best practices, work through complexities, and build capacity for a free community college system.
Because we’re hell-bent on getting this right.
And finally – our budget writes into law in-state tuition for all high school graduates in Massachusetts.
If we are to really share Dr. Du Bois’ belief that everyone should be afforded the civil right of learning, we must welcome all students equally to our public campuses – regardless of national origin or immigration status.
Kudos to my friend, the Gentleman from Lynn, for leading on this issue.
Welcome all students to public higher education – in a way that they know they belong.
That they have a right to college. This philosophy is a cornerstone of Greenfield Community College where banners hang across campus that read YOU BELONG HERE.
In closing, I cheer our Chair of Ways and Means and our Senate President – and their intrepid teams.
Together, thanks to their leadership, we are paving the way for what I’ll call a historic come-back in public higher education investment.
Public higher education is – yes – an equity engine. It’s also an economic development necessity. A democracy imperative.
And, above all, a profound down payment on the future of our Commonwealth and generations to come.