Frustrating State Budget Underfunds Public Colleges, Hikes Student Fees

Budget does avoid setting dangerous precedent of an unfunded tuition freeze.

Photo: Students, educators, and activists occupy the Grand Staircase at the State House holding “Fund Our Future” and “Debt Free Future” signs in March 2019. (Zac Bears/PHENOM)

The FY2020 state budget deal passed on July 22 underfunds our public colleges and universities, will force increases in tuition and fees for tens of thousands of students across the state, and ignores decades of state funding cuts that have caused Massachusetts to have the fastest growing public college costs in the country and increased exploitation of campus workers, especially part-time faculty and classified staff.

“Lawmakers are forcing tuition and fee hikes on thousands of students and families by underfunding our public colleges for yet another year,” said Zac Bears, executive director of PHENOM. “We are glad the unfunded UMass tuition freeze was excluded, and we support all efforts to create a formula or process to end the annual ritual of underfunding public colleges in Massachusetts.”

“Working students at community colleges can’t afford a fee hike right now. The cost of community college has skyrocketed over the past 20 years, pricing out the exact people who need access to community college the most,” said Amy Blanchette, PHENOM’s president and a graduate of Bristol Community College. “We need the state to reinvest in public higher education and guarantee universal access to every student regardless of their income or wealth.”

“I’ve gone to class in crumbling buildings, working in offices regularly topping 95 degrees, and faced a system that can’t respond to the needs of marginalized students,” said Emma Kinney, a student organizer at UMass Amherst. “These issues stem from chronic underfunding of public higher education, and we have been calling, emailing, visiting offices and even held a five-day sit-in demanding action. My peers are homeless, food insecure, and still working multiple jobs to stay afloat. Amidst all this pain and insecurity there are students screaming the solution as loud as they can. The solution is for the state to reinvest in public higher education as a truly public good. We will keep coming back until lawmakers do the right thing.”

“Students and workers at state universities like mine are feeling the brunt of underfunding. My fees are going up next year, and me and my family are worried about paying for classes this fall, “ said Ali Gurney, a student organizer at Westfield State University. “Our lawmakers need to do better and actually address this long-standing funding crisis in Massachusetts public higher education.”

PHENOM is a partner in the statewide Fund Our Future campaign to fund public education from Pre-K through college. Students, parents, educators, and activists across the state have been making noise as part of the campaign, and we are happy to see that there has been some progress made for K-12 public school students and educators. But our lawmakers need to take action now to pass the Promise Act to fully fund K-12 public schools and the Cherish Act to fully fund public higher education for the next five years while also freezing tuition and fees.

“While the overall budget is incredibly disappointing, the exclusion of the unfunded UMass tuition freeze is a small positive note. This unfunded tuition freeze wouldn’t have fixed the actual problem, and could have had repercussions for employees across the UMass system,” said Elizabeth Pellerito, PHENOM treasurer and staff at UMass Lowell. “We need real solutions like the Cherish Act and the Debt Free Future Act to guarantee debt-free public college for every Massachusetts resident.”