An Open Letter to Governor Charlie Baker About Investment in Public Higher Education

January 8, 2015


Governor Charlie Baker


Massachusetts State House

Office of the Governor

Room 105

Boston, MA 02133


Dear Governor Baker:


Investing in public higher education makes it possible for all of our young people to attend and graduate from college, and become productive citizens without the burden of massive debt. While Massachusetts has invested heavily in K-12 education and some forms of worker training, it has underinvested in public higher education, which can provide the training vital to an ever-growing majority of jobs in our state. This is truly a bipartisan issue.


Businesses have consistently cited an educated workforce as one of the most important factors in decided where to locate. Recent reports suggest the Massachusetts public higher education system will fall short of meeting the state’s need for new associate’s and bachelor’s degrees by a minimum of 55,000 to 65,000 by 2025.


This exists despite a 16% increase in enrollment at Massachusetts public higher education institutions over the last five years, which situates Massachusetts well above the national average. More than 70% of Massachusetts high school graduates who attend college in Massachusetts enroll in public institutions. Yet, between FY08 and FY13 educational appropriations per FTE student dropped 26.7%.


Tuition and fees at Massachusetts institutions remain substantially higher than the national average (26% higher at 4-year institutions and 39% at 2-year institutions). Moreover, Massachusetts  currently ranks 46th in the average need-based grant award per student. The average MASSGrant declined from covering 80% of the cost of tuition and fees at public institutions in 1988 to 9% in 2013. This has forced students to work more hours to cover expenses, and seriously compromises their ability to perform well in class and graduate on time.


Currently, 980,000 Massachusetts residents have more than $24 billion in student debt. This has a substantial negative effect on the economy (less people buying a home, a new car, or dining out). With 90% of Massachusetts public higher education students remaining in Massachusetts after graduation, these graduates remain burdened with debt and unable to fully participate in our state’s economy for decades.


It is clear that investing in public higher education pays off. College educated people have higher incomes, pay more in taxes, demand fewer social services, and create more businesses. On average, a person with a bachelor’s degree pays $3,176 more each year in taxes in Massachusetts than someone with only a high school diploma. This additional money can then be used by the state in ways that create jobs and further stimulate the economy.


Moreover, investment in higher education is a job-creator, including direct employment on the campuses, additional jobs created at in-state suppliers, and jobs created as a result of increased spending by the new wage earners.


Finally, there is another, less obvious economic return on investment in higher education: decreased state spending on other problems. College graduates are substantially less likely to draw on a number of public and social insurance programs, including welfare, Medicaid and other public health care, or Unemployment Compensation. They are also less likely to have encounters with the penal system and to incur costs of incarceration.


Over the last two years, we have seen the legislature and Governor Patrick reinvest in public higher education, making increases in tuition and fees unnecessary. I hope your administration builds upon this momentum to bring Massachusetts public higher education tuition and fees, which are some of the highest in the country, back down toward the middle. However, Governor Baker, I urge you to go one step further and level the playing field, letting every young person below a certain family income have access to at least two years of public higher education at no cost. The best economic development investment is the investment in public higher education.


We look forward to working with your administration on this crucial issue.


Natalie Higgins

Executive Director