Marty Meehan’s eloquent statement on the importance of public higher education and the problem of declining state support and rising tuition and fees is right on the mark. We in the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) hope that President Meehan will follow up by proposing a specific new compact with the state’s residents, so that the future young Marty Meehan’s of Lowell (and Boston and Springfield and New Bedford) could have the same thing he had — a top-notch and debt-free public higher education. Former UMass President Caret proposed and got funding for the “50/50 plan” which led to a freeze in UMass fees for two years. But now Massachusetts is lagging behind. Across the country, states and cities like Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Oregon, Chicago and Philadelphia are implementing strategies to achieve debt-free public higher education for their citizens. We should be leaders, not followers.
It wasn’t always this way, as Mr. Meehan himself experienced. Actually, for more than a hundred years of UMass’s 150 years, public higher education was virtually debt-free. Isn’t it time to demand, with a specific plan, that the legislature fund public higher education – UMass, the community colleges and the state universities – as its residents deserve?