"It is far past time for us to stop shortchanging our students."

The following testimony was submitted to the Joint Committee on Higher Education.

 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Chairwoman Gobi, Chairman Roy, and Members of the Joint Higher Education Committee,

My name is Jonathan Cohn, and I am the chair of the Issues Committee of Progressive Massachusetts, a statewide multi-issue grassroots organization committed to fighting for social justice and progressive policy. Since our founding, treating education as a public good and funding it as such has been central to our mission.

As such, we strongly support S.744 / H.1221, An Act to guarantee debt-free public higher education, and S.741, An Act committing to higher education the resources to Insure a strong and healthy public higher education system (or CHERISH), and urge you to report them out favorably.

Since 2001, Massachusetts has cut funding for public higher education by 14 percent. However, at the same time that our state was retrenching from investing in our future, enrollment was going up. As a result, per student funding has fallen by 32 percent, almost a third.

When the state pulls back, the cost burden falls onto students. Massachusetts saw some of the highest tuition and fee increases in the country from 2001 to 2016, particularly during the recession. The share of costs borne by students and their families doubled, putting a degree out of reach for more and more students, especially those of disadvantaged backgrounds.

Today, the average graduate from our state universities and the UMass system leaves with over $30,000 in student debt—the tenth highest in the country. The average debt for graduates of public, four-year postsecondary schools grew faster in Massachusetts than in all but one other state from 2004 to 2016.

A postsecondary degree provides a proven premium in lifetime wages for graduates and countless other opportunities. Cost should not be a barrier. By preventing young people from living independently, buying a home, or pursuing their career of choice, college debt is a drag on our economy. Even when students drop out due to cost, they can be saddled with debt for years after.

It is far past time for us to stop shortchanging our students. Investing more in public higher education, as the CHERISH Act would require, and making public higher education debt-free would benefit not only students. When financial concerns are no longer a hindrance for people seeking to realize their full potential, we all benefit.

 

Want more info, check out our higher education fact sheet at progressivemass.com/2019factsheets.

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