Joining the Fight for Free Public College

Students and families in Massachusetts are leading the charge.

Photo: Sydney Little at the Rally for Public Education on May 20, 2017. (Zac Bears/PHENOM)

Free public college is one of the biggest education justice issues of our time for youth and young people across our country. And here in Massachusetts, PHENOM is on the frontline of that fight.

My name is Sydney Little, and I joined the PHENOM team a few weeks ago as our new Organizing Director. Since I’ve started, I’ve been overjoyed to meet hundreds of people from across the Commonwealth who are fighting for a high-quality, debt-free future for our public college students, and for workers’ rights and the full funding we need to make sure that our faculty, whether they’re tenured or not, have equal pay, healthcare, and retirement benefits.

I’m new to the fight in Massachusetts, after graduating from Keene State College in New Hampshire with degrees in sociology and criminal justice. But I know the fight well. Public colleges in New Hampshire are nearly as underfunded as those in Massachusetts, with in-state costs at UNH adding up to over $30,000 a year.

Through my work as a campus organizer for Democracy Matters, I spent two years building a grassroots movement for justice that engages students and youth in the democratic decisions we make as a community. I also organized with NextGen Climate and America Votes, uniting democratic engagement with the fight for climate justice and the rights of voters. These experiences have ignited my passion for social justice and community action.

I also know that it’s essential to join together in a strong coalition to fight for our values. While students and families must be at the forefront, we need the support of faculty, staff, and yes, even administrators when they’re willing.

To win this fight, we will need careful coordination of our students across the state; that’s where I come in. I will work to ensure that every public college campus in Massachusetts has an active PHENOM chapter led by a passionate team of students. Having active chapters will give students, faculty, and staff a platform to share their story. My role is to equip our students with the necessary skills to educate their peers, petition their legislators, and become driving forces of the education justice movement. As Organizing Director, I will amplify the student voice to a point where it cannot be ignored.


Photo: PHENOM and the MCCC stand in solidarity with the UMass Lowell Adjunct Faculty on June 20, 2017. (Sydney Little/PHENOM)

The issue of high costs for students is tied with underfunding and the overworked faculty who are struggling to keep up. We need full funding both to make public colleges free for students and to make sure all of our faculty and staff have the resources they need to best serve the 190,000 public college and university students in Massachusetts.

Join us on June 29th to stand in solidarity with Adjunct Faculty as we support at bill that will provide equal pay, health care and retirement benefits to adjuncts at all 29 public colleges and universities in Massachusetts. On July 13th, head back to the State House to fight for free public college in Massachusetts by supporting the Finish Line Grant, which is the other half of our joint student/faculty higher education bill.

PHENOM is on the front lines of one of the most significant issues of our time: free higher education. And in the fight for free public higher education, our power comes from students and the energy of our college campuses. I am excited to help students, faculty, staff lead a powerful movement and send a strong message: the students and working families of Massachusetts deserve free, quality public higher education, and we’re here to make it happen.

Sydney Little is PHENOM’s organizing director.