Beacon Hill lawmakers have been driving the state budget for public higher education lower and lower for years, and this year is no different.

Watch our #DebtFreeFuture campaign video! (Mickey Prout/PHENOM)

Hey PHENOMenal community!

Thanks for joining us for our eighth PHENOM weekly update! You can read the update from the end of June here. The entire PHENOM team had a good break, and now we’re busy making plans for the upcoming year. Get in touch with Sydney at sydney@phenomonline.org to see what we’re planning on your campus or in your community.

State Budget Fails Public College Students and Families

The State House and State Senate released their compromise budget on Wednesday, and while it still awaits some changes by Governor Baker, there isn’t much good news for students and families at our public colleges and universities.

Let’s start with the good news: there is a decent increase in funding for our community colleges and state universities. However, this hasn’t completely stopped tuition and fee increases on these campuses, and it doesn’t make up for decades of funding cuts and lack of support.

On the UMass front, things aren’t even marginally rosy. The budget line-item for UMass is $519 million this year, hovering around 20% of the UMass budget and actually millions of dollars LESS than it was four years ago. And that’s before you adjust for inflation and the growing number of students. It also means another year of tuition and fee increases, which we’ll talk about in a minute.

In terms of systemic change, we’ll have to wait even longer for action by state lawmakers. A commission that would have developed a plan for debt-free public college was shelved and won’t be happening this year. Another commission to address decades of legacy debt shackling UMass Boston also didn’t make it into the final budget.

Another year when students and families looking to get a high-quality public higher education aren’t a priority. Actions speak louder than words, and the silence is deafening.

Less State Money Means Higher Student Fees. Again.

UMass is raising tuition for the fourth straight year, meaning an almost 16% increase over the past four years and thousands of dollars more coming out of the pockets of students and families in Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell.

We were quoted in several local news outlets on the ongoing crisis of high costs and massive debts. In an interview with the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Zac talked about the failure of the legislature to provide adequate funding and that they haven’t “produced a plan to forgive or cancel student debt held by state residents.”

“While 2 ½ percent is better than previous increases, we cannot afford to be increasing tuition and fees,” Zac Bears said. With the Fair Share Amendment ruled ineligible for the ballot this fall, which would have raised $2 billion annually for education and transportation, the Legislature needs to find a new avenue to support higher education.

“Our view is that legislators need to step up to find revenue using the principles of the Fair Share Amendment,” Bears said.

Click here to share on Facebook and here to read more.

PHENOM also released a statement that was quoted in the Lowell SunBoston Business Journal, and State House News Service, among other news outlets.

“PHENOM is disappointed that the State House’s lack of commitment to public higher education has led to another year of tuition increases at UMass. While 2.5% is better than previous increases, we cannot afford to be increasing tuition and fees.”

“This increase puts a college education out of reach of thousands more students and families and adds even more debt onto the already massive debt burden forced upon Massachusetts students and families. The Legislature must commit to significant funding increases for public higher education, tuition and fee rollbacks, and a plan to forgive or cancel student debt held by Massachusetts residents.”

Further Reading and Upcoming Events

We co-sponsored Together and Free Rallies Against Family Separation in Boston and Springfield on June 30th, and many PHENOM activists attended and volunteered to defend our immigrant families and communities from the terror unleashed by ICE. We were especially happy to join with our colleagues at Massachusetts Jobs with Justice to document the day and volunteer to host the livestream.

Watch this powerful video of a young person talking about her experience with the disgusting immigration actions taken by our government. We also have many photos from the day.

“The Massachusetts House has been largely missing in action when it comes to higher education. The House’s 2019 budget contains $1.2 billion in funding for higher education—a mere 0.1% over last year’s spending, itself a 14% cut since 2001.” Read and share this strong analysis of our Legislature’s failure to help students by Jonathan Cohn.

PHENOM joined the picket line in Lawrence to support the striking workers from Class, Inc. in Lawrence. Thank you to Marcelle Grair and all of the member-leaders on the line. Check out a photo here.

PHENOM joined with our allies from the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance to rally for the over 1,000 National Grid workers who have been locked out by their very profitable employer. Check out some of Zac’s photos on the MEJA Twitter. Watch our video on Twitter.

Thousands rally for locked-out National Grid workers. (Zac Bears/PHENOM)

We were happy to join with MASSPIRG and over 100 other groups to defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau! The CFPB protects student loan borrowers across the country, but it’s currently under attack from the inside by Trump’s acting mole Mick Mulvaney and their nominee for the permanent director, Kathy Kraninger. The vast majority of Americans want a strong CFPB that’s not controlled by the big banks and wealthy interests. Watch and share.

Food pantries are a step, not a solution. We need the State House to fund a Debt Free Future to help end the suffering on our campuses. “Some of these students are paying for college, they’re paying for their car and insurance – they’re putting themselves through. In order to do that, they end up having to couch surf some nights, or get someone to get them into the dining hall to get a meal.” Read more and share.

“The same people who say that we cannot afford to make public colleges and universities tuition free, or make health care a right for all, or rebuild our crumbing infrastructure, are those who have no problem spending trillions of dollars on our military budget and endless war.” Read more and share.

“The nation’s consumer watchdog agency is accusing the Education Department of impeding a lawsuit that could potentially bring financial relief to millions of student loan borrowers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is suing Navient Solutions, alleging one of the nation’s largest student loan servicers violated consumer protection laws and in some cases caused students to pay back too much on their student loans.” Read more.

Upcoming Events

August 8th – Young Alumni Fighting Back Against Student Debt
MassArt, Pozen Center, 7PM
RSVP: https://actionnetwork.org/events/young-alumni-fighting-to-end-the-student-debt-crisis?clear_id=true
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/627300620962400/

Calling all college alumni or people with student debt! Are you a student or recent grad still looking to fight for public higher education? Are you interested in learning how student debt and higher education will play into the 2018 elections and 2019 legislative cycle?

Join PHENOM and our partner the Hildreth Institute to answer all of these questions on August 8th! Mix and mingle with other alumni, share your personal story, and connect with others pushing for a debt-free system on the road to free public higher education for all. We will also share recent poll results and discuss prospects for justice in our higher education system.

One lucky attendee will even win one month’s loan repayment courtesy of Bob Hildreth!

August 23rd – PHENOM Organizing Retreat
TBD (Boston Area and Zoom), 10AM to 4PM

Over 50 PHENOM activists, organizers and volunteers are gathering for our end-of-summer organizing retreat. We’ll be talking about the #DebtFreeFuture campaign, campus and community organizing, and how we will be taking our fight for free college and against student debt to the streets this fall!

RSVP by emailing Sydney at sydney@phenomonline.org.