Time to Reinvest in Public Higher Education

The following is testimony submitted to the Joint Committee on Higher Education for its hearing on July 13, 2017.

Chairman Moore, Chairman Scibak, and members of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, I, Jonathan Cohn, Co-Chair of the Issues Committee of Progressive Massachusetts, am pleased to offer this testimony on behalf of Progressive Massachusetts. Progressive Massachusetts is a multi-issue, grassroots, member-based advocacy organization committed to an agenda of shared prosperity, racial and social justice, good governance and strong democracy, and sustainable infrastructure and environmental protection.  

Progressive Massachusetts would like to go on the record IN SUPPORT of bills H.633 and S.681.

Public higher education in the United States and especially in Massachusetts has played a critical role in expanding opportunity. A commitment to public higher education rests on an understanding that such institutions are anchors for the community, drivers of prosperity, producers of socially beneficial knowledge, and cultivators of forward-thinking individuals with skills and abilities that help them to succeed and us all to benefit. It’s quite simple: when public education in our Commonwealth is strong, we are all strong.

However, since the early 2000s, we have been balancing the budget on the backs of students, with disastrous consequences.

Higher education has seen a 14 percent cut since 2001 despite substantial increases in enrollment. As a result, we are spending 31 percent less per student.

What does this mean in practice? Higher tuition and greater debt. Tuition now costs $4,000 more, on average, than it did in 2001. Three-fourths of students at public four-year colleges have to take out loans to afford their education, with their debt burden upon graduation more than 50 percent greater than it was at the start of the millennium.

Our chronic underinvestment in public higher education is preventing it from realizing its promise—and instead creating new roadblocks for working families across the state. Moreover, studies have shown that growing student loan debt has been a major drag on the economy, hurting us all.

Fortunately, it does not have to be this way. Bills like H.633 (free public higher education) and S.681 (debt-free higher education) offer a path forward.

Please Give a Favorable Report to H.633 and S.681.

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