We are very pleased that the 2014-15 budget includes an increase in state appropriations for all of the campuses in the Public Higher Education system for the third year in a row. At UMass, the increase is enough to trigger another year of fee freezes for its five campuses and to reach the 50/50 goal of having half the cost of a UMass education paid for by the state and half by the students and their families. The 2015 budget also delivers a small increase in financial aid. This is good news, and PHENOM is grateful to the governor and legislature for recognizing the important role our Public Higher Education system plays in our economy.
Unfortunately, however, students at the nine State Universities and fifteen Community Colleges will absorb fee increases, in some cases, rather hefty fee increases, because the appropriations to those sectors did not match the target figures agreed to during last year’s budget discussions. These students represent roughly three quarters of the students in the Public Higher Education system, and are among the least able to afford increased fees.
Ron Weisberger, who works in Developmental Education at Bristol Community College, lamented that “after more than a decade of budget cuts, at a time when there is a greater demand and need for post-secondary education, those of us who mentor and advise students are worried. We worry what another fee increase, inevitable with this budget, will mean for our most vulnerable students.”
PHENOM and the various sectors of the Public Higher Education system have worked hard to have a unified message — endorsing the 50/50 plan put forward by UMass President Caret and arguing for sufficient state appropriations to allow for ongoing fee freezes at all public colleges and universities. Last year an agreement was made among the legislature, the Governor and the campuses for the needed funding, with a promise to continue in that direction this coming year.
Kim Selwitz, PHENOM’s President and a graduate of Framingham State University, concluded: “We are disappointed that the budget will only allow some campuses to maintain the fee freeze, but we are committed to maintaining the unity we have built. PHENOM believes the Legislature should fix its mistake. All public higher education students, regardless of institution, deserve relief from more debt.”