The key demand? $500 million in new funds from the Fair Share Amendment.
Photo: Nathalie Amazan addresses the crowd at Advocacy Day 2018. (Jen Ford/PHENOM)
“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.
Dividing the agenda into a “now” and a “future,” students demanded that lawmakers implement several measures to address public college costs and quality.
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”
This year, students want to see fully-funded campus budgets; the passage of the Finish Line Grant, which would provide one year of tuition and fees to help cover the cost of completing their degrees; as well as a Student Loan Borrowers Bill of Rights and a law that would provide access to health insurance to adjunct faculty at public colleges and universities.
“We are told college is important, so let’s make it accessible. We are told college is necessary, so let’s create a system that is debt-free,” Mickey Prout, a Westfield State University student and PHENOM organizer told the crowd.
But the big changes would start next year, when students plan to unite with college presidents, professors and campus staff around a plan to spend $500 million in new annual funds from the Fair Share Amendment as a first step towards high-quality, debt-free public higher education.
“The first thing that we want, and the Massachusetts Teachers Association has come out for this, is not just debt-free public higher education, but free public higher education,” said MTA President Barbara Madeloni. “That’s why we’re going to win the Fair Share Amendment in November. We’re going to win this. I look out at all of your faces and I know we’ve got this.”
“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.”
“Organizing and advocating for a #DebtFreeFuture does not end when you leave the State House today, and it doesn’t end tomorrow or next week,” said Amazan, who is also the UMass Amherst Student Government Association vice president-elect.
“It ends when we can guarantee that going to college for every person is no longer a debt sentence, but a right subsidized by the government as a public good.”
Some of the great photos taken by students, volunteers, and organizers at Public Higher Education Advocacy Day 2018!