Largest Cut to Public Higher Education in a Decade

PHENOM Criticizes State Budget which Makes the Largest Cut to Public Higher Education in a Decade

The budget Governor Patrick signed on June 30 slashes funding for Massachusetts Community Colleges, State Colleges and the UMass campuses by close to $145 million, or almost 15%. This is the largest cut to the state’s public higher education campuses in a decade. About 3% of the cuts are due to the U.S. Senate’s failure to pass an extension of the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) because of a threatened filibuster by, among others, Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

Over the past 5 years Massachusetts cut state support for public higher education more than any other state. Tuition and fees in 2009-2010 were 40% higher than the national average, and the state spends only half the national average on financial aid. States with much lower per capita revenue, such as Mississippi and Alabama, spend more per capita on higher education than Massachusetts.

The Governor’s original budget maintained level funding for public higher education by allocating the full $96 million in remaining American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for Higher Education. However, by choosing to reject any new revenues, even those that would have focused exclusively on the wealthiest citizens in our state – such as restoring the cut to the tax on dividends and interest and the elimination of the airplane sales tax exemption – the Legislature made massive cuts to all aspects of the budget, and especially higher education, all but inevitable.

Most of the cuts to public higher education are from the ARRA funds in the Governor’s original budget. The legislators cut $75.3 million for K-12 Chapter 70 funds and then backfilled the gap with ARRA funds the Governor had proposed for public higher education. “This is a cynical ploy,” according to Ken Haar, professor at Westfield State College and a member of the Board of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM), “to circumvent the intent of the ARRA law and raid public education funding.“

Working and middle class families get hurt every time the state cuts funding for state schools, and this latest hit is not only the biggest in the last decade but the most short-sighted given the current economic downturn. “Massachusetts’ economy depends on a highly educated workforce, and individuals’ job prospects depend on access to higher education,” said Melissa Urban, a senior at UMass Amherst and a member of PHENOM’s Board. “Looking at how many graduates of state schools stay in Massachusetts, public higher education is an obvious investment in long-term economic growth.”