During a wide-ranging conversation on April 14, 2014 at UMass Amherst, it was clear that Representative Jim McGovern was passionate and well-informed about the current state of affairs in higher education.
Initiated by PHENOM, a group of about a dozen students, staff and faculty met with Congressman McGovern. He shared a letter he wrote to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Signed by the 9 Massachusetts House members, it was very critical of President Obama’s proposal that colleges be rated according to the earnings of their graduates.
Monica Rochon, a Residence Director, attended the gathering. She said, “in my position at the university I interact with students on a professional and personal level. They open up about their lives, social identities, and particularly their financial struggles and ability to afford paying for college. Some of our students are working multiple jobs while also maintaining full time student status. They are under immense amounts of stress.” She wanted to know, “when a student comes to your office explaining that they have to drop out because they cannot afford to finish, what do you say to that student?”
The highlight of the meeting was his suggestion that his office and PHENOM work together on a “marker bill.” This is a type of federal legislation that does not try to be “realistic” but rather aims for the ultimate objective. It is designed to generate broad support and change the terms of the discussion in Congress and among the public.
McGovern offered to have his staff work on this, to ask the Congressional Research Service to cost it out, and to file the bill.
The Congressman encouraged PHENOM to create the initial outline, and urged that we model it on our comments to the state’s Funding Commission. PHENOM argued for 2 free years of college, calling this a necessary step with tremendous benefits for individuals as well as the economy.
Congressman McGovern said that “Republicans are successful at making us think small,” and he noted that the Single Payer health care movement helped pass the Affordable Care Act. In other words, PHENOM’s task is to think big and assure that these ideas will resonate with a large segment of the public. Another task is to organize around any such legislation. He suggested starting with a major conference to bring together members of Congress, students, the Department of Education, the campus unions, and college presidents.
Monica concluded, “I felt heard and listened to by Congressman McGovern and it’s great that he was quick to move to action steps about proposing a marker bill. Higher Education should be a right for all, not just a privilege for some.”
Contact PHENOM to help plan this conference, develop this initiative, or pass this legislation.