By Natalie Higgins, PHENOM’s Executive Director
Excerpted from 2015 Spring Newsletter
President Obama’s free community college proposal put affordability and accessibility of public higher education on the national agenda in a big way. PHENOM has been organizing around affordable and accessible high quality public higher education since its beginning. And we know that removing tuition and fees also removes so many barriers—from navigating financial aid to qualifying for Pell Grants, to affording transportation and childcare. But we also know, after decades of state disinvestment, the ability of these public colleges to provide quality education has been strained.
With this national push for accessible and affordable— i.e. free—community college, we can’t lose sight of our goal of quality public higher education in the Commonwealth. Free or lower cost education does not guarantee that students will be prepared to meet career challenges. Success depends on quality of instruction and academic support, assured by adequate staffing levels and salaries high enough to attract talented faculty and staff. There must also be consistent funding for campuses to maintain buildings and to supply equipment for classrooms and labs.
PHENOM advocates for two years of free education across all three segments of public higher education in Massachusetts. This is, in part, to make sure that community colleges don’t become a second-class track for low-income, minority, and first generation students.
This could truly be a watershed moment in public higher education, moving us closer to a place where higher education is no longer a privilege, but a right.