New program makes for a great photo op, but doesn’t address affordability crisis.

The “Boston Bridge” program announced today by Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh makes for a great photo op, but does little to address the crisis of high costs and massive debts facing students and working families at all 29 public colleges and universities in Massachusetts.

Baker and Walsh’s proposal coordinates a City of Boston “tuition-free” plan with the statewide “Commonwealth Commitment” program. However, it applies only to full-time students with Pell Grant-eligibility – a small portion of the state’s students – limits students to certain academic majors, requires them to move through their program of study with unrealistic speed, and covers just the “last-dollar” gap between Pell Grants and mandatory tuition and fees.

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It is no wonder that only 50 students are enrolled in Boston’s “tuition-free” plan and just 80 students are enrolled in “Commonwealth Commitment,” according to the Department of Higher Education. That is a tiny fraction of the 190,000 students who attend the state’s public colleges and universities each year, and the 56,000 who attend Boston Public Schools.

PRESS COVERAGE (SO FAR)

The Boston Globe: Baker, Walsh announce tuition-free college pilot program (link)
WBUR: New Program Offers Low-Income Boston Students Chance To Attend College Without Tuition Costs (link)
WGBH: Facing Skepticism, Baker, Walsh Launch ‘Free College’ Plan In Boston (link)
MassLive.com: Free college tuition offered to Boston residents: An explainer (link)

Those who are serious about college affordability have lined up to support the Finish Line Grant, which will offer one tuition- and fee-free year at any public college, for any Massachusetts resident with an income below $130,000. It is a far better first step towards free public college in the Commonwealth. While Baker’s program only covers 80 students, the Finish Line Grant would cover 80% of Massachusetts residents and has over 100 co-sponsors in the Massachusetts House and Senate.

“The ‘Boston Bridge’ program does nothing to address the systemic causes of high costs at our public colleges or the massive student debt crushing young people and working families in the Commonwealth,” said Zac Bears, PHENOM’s Executive Director. “A small program with little new funding will not address the $500 million the state has cut from public colleges since 2001. Furthermore, Baker has proposed a budget that will lead to cuts and tuition and fee hikes at all 29 of our public colleges and universities.”

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” said Amy Blanchette, PHENOM board member and student at Bristol Community College. “Last year, Governor Charlie Baker got lots of publicity for the Commonwealth Commitment, which has benefitted just 80 students out of 190,000. It seems designed to get him some press coverage, and not to help students struggling with high costs.”