Between FY2001 and FY2010, state support per full-time student fell 37% in Massachusetts. Since then, enrollment has continued to increase, state appropriations have fallen, and the student debt crisis has exploded. With the budget unveiled by the House Ways and Means Committee on April 11, these trends would continue.
On March 8, 600 students, faculty and staff crowded into the State House to ask legislators to do 3 things: increase campus operating budgets by 5%; increase funds available for financial aid by 5%; and include funds for a collective bargaining reserve in order to fund already-negotiated faculty and staff contracts. We applaud the House Ways and Means Committee for listening on March 8th, following the Governor’s lead, and doing the third of these.
However, by level funding campus budgets and cutting financial aid, this budget would impose a further untenable burden on thousands of students. When the legislature cuts campus funds, college administrations reluctantly raise student costs, which are already 30% – 50% higher than the national average, making college unaffordable for many. Cutting financial aid just as national student loan debt is about to reach $1 trillion is a step in the wrong direction. Massachusetts already has the 12th highest average student loan debt in the country.
This week PHENOM and its allies will be filing amendments to the proposed budget that would provide modest increases to campus budgets and to financial aid. Next week, UMass Amherst students will be delivering 1,000 personal letters from students to their State Representatives. These letters document students’ dreams and ambitions, and also their stress and heartaches as they see classmates dropping out, class sizes growing, and their own futures in jeopardy.
Our students and their families need the continuing support of our elected officials.