PHENOM members testified in support of free public college.

Photo: Juan Blanco, Isabella Epshtein, Ignacio Chaparro, and Amy Blanchette testify on July 13th. (Sydney Little/PHENOM)

Supporters of free public college in Massachusetts packed a hearing room at the State House to demand support for bills that would address the student debt and college cost crisis. Students and faculty from PHENOM testified in support of the Finish Line Grant as a first step that lawmakers can take now to help students and families.

“(The Finish Line Grant) is something that we can do now to address the most pressing problem that we’re facing, which is that there are students who are going to our schools for two or three or fours years, taking on $15,000 or $20,000 in debt, and then they’re leaving without a degree,” Zac Bears, PHENOM executive director, said. “We’re putting them in this position where they’re having to pay back these student debts but they’re not having the degree they need to get the access to the job and career that they were hoping to get.”


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WWLP-22 News: “Proposal would help cover college costs for in-state students”
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Lowell Sun: “Controversial taxes pitched as funding source for free college”
Sentinel & Enterprise: “Advocates call for year’s free tuition at public colleges”

“One of the greatest atrocities of this higher education crisis is its role in the perpetuation of systemic racism and oppression,” Karyn Aiello, lead PHENOM organizer at UMass Boston, said.

“We’re forcing our students to figure out, do I pay for my class and my textbooks or do I put food on my table, and we should not have that in the United States and definitely not in Massachusetts. Public higher education is a right,” said State Rep. Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster).

“As a formerly-undocumented student, I know exactly what it means to not be able to accomplish what one has set out to do, and I know that I am just one of many people facing these issues on a daily basis,” Juan Blanco, UMass Boston graduate and PHENOM organizer, said to the committee. “The Finish Line Grant could be a way to help those of us that encounter ourselves with a passion for learning and a need to further our education but are shunned by federal financial aid structures.”

“Students start with ambition and courage, but become overwhelmed with work in and out of school and the financial burden is just too great,” Sandra Howland, adjunct faculty member at North Shore Community College, said at the hearing. “Certainly, those who start to attain an education under the most difficult circumstances deserve all the support we can give them.”

“Public higher education has given me a purpose,” Amy Blanchette, PHENOM vice president, said. “It makes me feel as if I am someone and that I am not just existing in a hollow shell in a perpetual cycle of poverty. I want as many people as possible, especially people who are in my position to possess the same weapon that I have to defeat that cycle: public higher education.”