Good news for Massachusetts students of public higher education: a Democratic state representative from Berkshire County is sponsoring a bill that will add over $500 million a year to the state budget.
Representative Paul Mark, once a University of Massachusetts student who struggled to pay tuition, is working with Massachusetts Senator Jo Comerford and Representative Sean Garballey to sponsor the CHERISH Act, a bill that would require the state to add over $500 million a year to the state budget for higher education.
This is Senator Comerford's first bill -- he's a first-year senator. He said, "I believe in the promise of public education, pre-k through higher education. I know that when we increase state investments in these institutions of learning that everybody wins — the students win, the faculty, the staff, and our communities win.”
According to MassLive, the CHERISH bill would establish in state law a minimum funding level for public higher education. Supporters estimate about $574 million more per year.
Based on information from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, Massachusetts spent $12,500 per public college student in fiscal year 2001. In 2018, that figure plummeted to about $8,500 per student.
Students are happy about the news. UMass Amherst student government president Timmy Sullivan said disinvestment in public higher education “betrays the promise and the charge of public education” and “embeds structural inequities into what should be our great equalizer.”
Sullivan described the situation as a “crisis” when students have to drop out because they cannot afford to attend public colleges and universities. This fiscal year, tuition and mandatory fees at UMass cost, on average, $15,100. At state universities, the average tuition and fees were around $10,500. For community colleges, the average tuition and fees were $6,000.
The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center reported that the average student debt for students leaving four-year public schools is about $30,000.
The funding would not just help students as they complete their studies. It will help them after they graduate, too, so that they can have the capital to open businesses, live in the state, and otherwise contribute.
Greenfield Community College President Yves Salomon-Fernandez said, "This bill is really important for the students whose lives it’s going to change, but also for our economy’s ability to stay competitive, for us to continue to retain young people. This is not just about debt burden, this is an investment in our own economy.”
What do you think of the proposed bill? Share your thoughts in the comments!