#DebtFreeFuture is a student-led, youth-driven movement for free public college.

Photo: A student holds a sign reading “Public College Should Not Be A Debt Sentence” at Advocacy Day 2018. (Jen Ford/PHENOM)

Huge cuts in state funding for public colleges are making it impossible for students and families to afford college. The state has cut funding by hundreds of millions of dollars since 2001, while the number of students has grown substantially, amounting to an over 33% per student cut.

Now, Massachusetts has the 10th highest student debt burden in the country and the 6th lowest public college budget. Student debt growth in Massachusetts was the second-fastest in the whole country over the past 15 years. Average debt only went up faster in Delaware, putting us ahead of 48 other states. It’s not a top-two list we want to be on.

Our overall ask is simple: We want a #DebtFreeFuture for current and future public college students, alumni and their families.

To move closer, we are demanding $500 million in new annual funds from the Fair Share Amendment to be distributed across three major priorities.

(1) A #DebtFreeFuture for Current and Future Students

  • Free public higher education grant program based on the principles of the Finish Line Grant.
  • Understanding that we will need to expand this program to cover all 4 years in the future.

(2) A #DebtFreeFuture for Past Students and Alumni

(3) Funding for Public Colleges and Support for Workers

  • Meet the full budget requests made by our campuses in the state budget.
  • Fix Adjunct Faculty Health Insurance.
  • Hire more full-time faculty to support high-quality education.
  • Fund high-quality campus facilities and deferred maintenance.

PRESS COVERAGE

April 2018
Leslie Marshall Show:
“Rep. Natalie Higgins and PHENOM’s Zac Bears on the Student Loan Bill of Rights”
The Atlantic: “Why Would the Government Stop States From Helping Student Borrowers?”
MassLive Editorial: “State should take lead in protecting student debtors”
MarketWatch: “Massachusetts defies Trump administration with crackdown on student loan debt”
MassLive.com: “Mass. Senate passes student loan regulations, setting up clash with Trump administration”
New England Public Radio: “Student Debt Is ‘Poisoning Everything Else In Our Economy,’ Says Sen. Eric Lesser”
Valley Advocate: “Massachusetts readies for legal fight over ‘Student Loan Bill of Rights’”
AP/Boston.com: “Massachusetts Senate OKs bill aimed at student loan lenders”
WBUR: “Massachusetts Senate OKs Bill Aimed At Student Loan Lenders”
Daily Hampshire Gazette: “State Senate passes student loan bill of rights”
Public News Service:
“Student Loan Bill of Rights Passes Mass. Senate”
The Student Loan Report:
“Massachusetts May Face Legal Battle Over Student Loan Bill of Rights”
WWLP-22 News:
“Bill aims to end predatory student loan services”
Lowell Sun: “Senate OKs ‘student loan bill of rights’”
Western Mass News: “Massachusetts Senate OKs bill aimed at student loan lenders”
U.S. News & World Report: “Massachusetts Senate OKs Bill Aimed At Student Loan Lenders”
WHDH-7 News: “Massachusetts Senate OKs Bill Aimed At Student Loan Lenders”
BU Daily Free Press: “Massachusetts on path to regulate student loan servicers”
Amherst Bulletin: “UMass students push for affordable college”
Greenfield Recorder: “Panel tackles college affordability”
MetroWest Daily News: “Sherborn’s state senator supports student loan bill of rights”
Auburn Mass. Daily:
“Student Loan Bill of Rights to Protect Borrowers”
MassPIRG: “Mass. Senate Passes Much Needed Consumer Protections for Student Loan Borrowers”
PHENOM:
“Students and Advocates Support Student Loan Bill of Rights”

March 2018
WBUR: “As Costs Climb At Public Colleges, State Leaders Weigh Fixes — But Students Demand More”
WWLP-22 News: “Students push for lawmakers to increase higher education funding”
State House News Service: “UMass eyes online ed revenues to address affordability”
MassLive.com: “UMass President Marty Meehan stresses college affordability in State of UMass address”
Boston Globe: “Mass. students borrowing more to attend public universities”
Boston Business Journal: “Massachusetts’ rising student debt said to hurt local businesses”
MassLive.com: “Trump policy threatens Massachusetts’ regulation of student loans”
Daily Collegian (UMass): “Letter: UMatter at UMass, but do you matter in Massachusetts?”
MassBudget: “Educated and Encumbered: Student Debt Rising with Higher Education Funding Falling in MA”

Fall 2017
American Prospect: “States Take on Student Debt Abuses as the Trump Administration Defaults”
MassLive.com: “After DeVos rescinds protections, Massachusetts mulls regulations for student loan industry”
Massachusetts Jobs With Justice: “A Student Loan Borrowers Bill of Rights”

Spring 2017
MassLive.com: “It’s time for a student loan bill of rights in Massachusetts (Guest Viewpoint)”
MassLive.com: “Do Massachusetts college students need a borrower’s bill of rights?”

#DebtFreeFuture Advocacy Day 2018

“If we as students do not organize and demand our right to a #DebtFreeFuture, who will?” UMass Amherst student Nathalie Amazan asked the 500-person crowd gathered at the State House on March 5th for Public Higher Education Advocacy Day 2018.

“You have the power. You have the power. You have the power. You have the power. You have the power,” Amazan declared, pointing at different groups of students gathered across the room. “All of us have the power as students to organize together and demand a system that works for us. We have the power to do that today. That’s why we’re here.”

Hundreds of students from public colleges and universities across Massachusetts took that power right into the Beacon Hill offices of their state representatives and state senators, laying out an ambitious and long-overdue agenda to make college affordable and accessible for the students and families of the Commonwealth.

“The Department of Higher Education is trying to help people afford college, but we need to put a lot more money into it than five, seven million dollars,” PHENOM executive director Zac Bears said. “We need $500 million just as a start, just to get going.”

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Student Loan Bill of Rights

Student debt is now the second largest form of debt held by people in the United States. Over $1.5 trillion in student loans are outstanding, with nearly two-thirds of that amount being held by women. But student loan borrowers don’t even have the same basic protections provided to mortgage loans, car loans or even credit card debt. We have to change that in Massachusetts.

The Student Loan Bill of Rights (S.2380 and H.2173) would provide all student loan borrowers in the state with the basic consumer protections they deserve. Click here to download our print factsheet.

The Student Loan Bill of Rights passed the Massachusetts Senate unanimously on April 11th, 2018. The bill now sits in the Massachusetts House of Representatives awaiting a vote before it is sent to Governor Baker for his signature.

PHENOM worked with “The Loan Rangers,” a student law office of about 15 Northeastern University School of Law students, to analyze the Student Loan Bill of Rights, create a “Know Your Rights” guide for student borrowers and suggest amendments to the bills currently being moved through the State House. We are proud to say that some of these changes made it into the bill that passed the Massachusetts Senate in April 2018. Read their report on the Student Loan Bill of Rights here.

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