In the last few weeks, three announcements show, once again, that rhetoric and reality face a severe disconnect on Beacon Hill when it comes to public higher education.
First, the Governor proposed how to use the $460 million in unanticipated, unbudgeted revenue from this past fiscal year. 2/3 would go into a rainy day fund, while 1/3 would go to a variety of worthwhile endeavors. PHENOM believes that the rainy day fund is important and should be filled — but NOT when it’s raining. It’s raining in our state and on our campuses. Student fees are up, support for our students is down, and campus buildings are in need of repair. This is a moment when a few dollars could be spent on higher ed — which all the politicians say is so important to the state’s economic future.
Then, the Governor, House Speaker and Senate President unveiled their gambling proposal. In great detail, it proposes to allocate projected $400 million in annual revenues. Specific percentages are assigned to Local Aid, Economic Development, K-12 Education, Health Care and numerous other categories. Higher Education is not among them. The only reference is in the 10% assigned to Economic Development. Scholarships are mentioned as one of many possible areas that could be considered. [The bill does propose that 20% of licensing revenues go to community colleges as 1-time funds.]
Third, most state employee unions have been offered contract extensions with modest raises. The exception — higher ed. While the Patrick administration has said they would like to see the offer extended to campus unions, the Board of Higher Education and the University of Massachusetts have so far declined to do so. Don’t we want to retain our talented faculty and staff?
It seems like public higher education is not quite the priority we keep being told it must be. These recent events confirm PHENOM’s belief that we have to build a powerful grassroots movement that can make the politicians put the money where their mouths are. That’s PHENOM’s goal.