PHENOM’s Theory of Change


To achieve our goal of more affordable, accessible public higher education in Massachusetts, PHENOM uses a variety of grassroots organizing tactics. 

These include leadership development; mobilizing constituencies (e.g., letter campaigns, public testimonies); civic engagement (e.g., tabling on campuses, rallies, concerts, meeting with legislators); and coordinating events and strategy with allies such as student groups and teachers’ unions.

Whom Our Movement is For

We use these to bring together a coalition of students, faculty, staff and administrators to advocate for higher quality, more affordable, accessible and well-paying higher ed.

But first and foremost, PHENOM serves to give students a seat at the table in the movement for higher education reform. 

To that end, PHENOM tries to build momentum by getting college students directly involved in advocacy on their own campuses.

We currently have chapters at UMass-Amherst, UMass-Boston and UMass-Dartmouth, and as these branches grow we intend to expand to every state college to make PHENOM the truly statewide organization it’s meant to be.


But how exactly do we intend to improve Massachusetts’ public colleges and trade schools? Through four critical pieces of legislation, which all contribute to the others and promise to revolutionize Massachusetts public higher ed in their own ways. 


The CHERISH Act (H.1260/ S.816) would massively reinvest in our institutions’ levels of funding, bolster student support services, guarantee more benefits to faculty and staff, finance colleges’ debt.

Last but not least, Cherish would create a debt-free college program: the government would cover whatever amount of tuition students cannot afford, effectively ensuring no student will ever need to go into debt to get a degree again.

The Debt-Free Future Act

The Debt-Free Future Act (H.1265/ S.823) would go a step further and require all Massachusetts public colleges to be tuition-free, in addition with a grant program designed to provide financial aid with necessities like housing, food, and transportation if necessary.

We at PHENOM see DFF as so essential because it promises to make education truly financially accessible to all. We say education is the great equalizer, but that is only possible if it is affordable for everyone, not just the wealthy few.

A Just Economy (The Endowment Tax Act)

In turn, the Endowment Tax Act (H.2824/ S.1834) would provide the funding for the Debt-Free Future Act. The bill would do so by levying a 2.5 percent tax on Massachusetts’ private universities with endowments over $1 billion.

According to State Representative Natalie Higgins, the sponsor of both bills in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the bill would generate over $2 billion in revenue per year, which would more than cover DFF’s estimated cost of $1.8 billion. 

The Universal FAFSA Application

Finally, PHENOM supports the Universal FAFSA Application, or making it a requirement for all high-school students to complete the FAFSA form to determine eligibility for financial aid.

This is important because documentation of all students’ financial needs will allow universities to allocate limited funds more efficiently to help more students afford college.

FAFSA completion is already associated with higher rates of college enrollment and persistence (i.e., not dropping out).

While the passage of Debt-Free Future and Cherish would make it much less important for public universities, it would still be a very valuable resource for students applying to private colleges. 


PHENOM intends for the Cherish Act, the Endowment Tax Act and the Universal FAFSA to all pass within the current legislative session, which ends in January 2025. 

Since the Debt-Free Future Act is particularly bold in its promise to make public colleges tuition-free for everyone in Massachusetts, we see the passage of this bill as part of our long-term vision. 

Besides their individual merits, the other bills in our platform are important building blocks for DFF. Each one we pass will bring us closer to passing the Debt-Free Future Act.

Once we finally pass those three bills and pass DFF, it will mark the beginning of truly public higher education, where all citizens of the Commonwealth have the same opportunity to enrich themselves regardless of wealth or background.

In sum, these four bills complement each other to make Massachusetts’ public institutions more affordable for all students, while giving campuses the resources they need to remain high-quality, competitive centers of learning.