After winning a long battle to impose a tax on the state’s top revenues meant to fund education and transportation, unions and educators from Massachusetts are making it clear that public higher education is at the top of their priority list for newfound funding.
“This is the right time to send a message to the leadership of the House and Senate, to our next governor, that we need to make sure that when this money comes out of the millionaire’s tax, we are providing that public higher education.” Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton spoke at a coalition meeting at the State House on Thursday.
Members of the Higher Ed for All Coalition are pushing to deploy more than $1 million in new revenue from the 4% tax on individual household income that voters approved in a ballot measure last month. Revenue from that tax increase isn’t expected to materialize for some time, but intense competition is expected between competing interests in the transportation and education sectors.
The state has budgeted $1.61 billion for higher education out of this year’s $52.7 billion budget, up nearly $1.4 billion from last year’s $47.6 billion plan.
Still, between 2001 and 2020, state funding fell by about $2,500 per student, according to the coalition. At the same time, students saw tuition and fee increases of $6,500 to attend public colleges and universities.
A Hildreth Institute report published in April found that student spending at the state’s public colleges and universities has risen at one of the fastest rates in the nation, with tuition and fees rising 52% since 2000, as median family incomes have risen. Only 13%
The coalition, which includes the Massachusetts Association of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, prioritizes recruiting and retaining employees primarily through increased pay and job security, increased student aid, affordable and accessible “debt-free” higher education, and investment in campus infrastructure.
Advocates argue that raising salaries for teachers and staff will combat recruitment and retention challenges.
The average full professor salary at a Massachusetts community college is about $75,000 and the average instructor salary is $57,000, said Claudine Barnes, president of the Massachusetts Community College Council. Starting full-time salaries are $47,000 for faculty and just over $42,000 for professional staff.
“Where I live on the Cape, the median home price this October was $895,000,” Barnes said. “The average rent was 2,966. Add in student loan payments, and it won’t take a math professor to solve this problem. We can’t hire people.
One in 15 community colleges in Massachusetts has not recently been able to hire for open positions, Barnes said.
In addition to hiring problems, he said, community colleges are losing faculty and professional staff to more lucrative private sector colleges.
“(Community colleges) educate and serve about half of Massachusetts’ public high school students, yet we get about 25% of the state’s higher education budget. Our students are very diverse and have more financial difficulties, we have many first-generation college students and many students who are not as prepared as they should be. “We need to end the exploitation of organized teachers and professional staff by creating more full-time positions.”
Advocates also pressed Thursday for the return of “debt-free” public college.
Beth Kontos, Massachusetts president of the American Federation of Teachers, recalled going to Salem State University for $250 a semester in the late 70s and early 80s. She said her family did not contribute anything to her higher education, but she was able to meet tuition and living expenses with nothing more than a summer job.
“That’s the way it should be … everyone pays less and everyone gets more,” she said, adding that everyone in Massachusetts would benefit from a more educated workforce.
According to Higher Ed for All, black students graduate from public institutions with an average of $27,769 in debt, compared to $19,132 for white students, $15,668 for Hispanic students and $11,491 for Asian students.
“With the passage of … the Equity Amendment, we now have the money to make that debt-free higher education a reality in Massachusetts. And Beth, let’s go back to the golden memories that this really brings to everyone’s benefit. ” said Aneta Argyrus, president of the UMass Boston Association of Professional Employees.
After the pandemic passed legislation before the state overhauled funding for K-12 education, lawmakers are now grappling with how to make education affordable at the beginning and end of a student’s career.
The 2023 budget provides more than $190 million in financial aid for higher education, which includes expanding the MASSGrant Plus program, the last dollar grant Gov. Charlie Baker launched in 2018 to cover tuition and mandatory fees. For low-income community college students.
This year’s $190 million in aid represents a 24.8 percent increase over last year’s $152.3 million in financial aid and tuition waiver programs for college campuses. The fiscal 2023 budget also includes $15 million in financial aid for UMass students.
Still, House and Senate versions of making public education more affordable have been in committee since the summer.
The Joint Committee on Education to establish the Higher Education Review Commission (S 2812/H 4694) has been tabled in the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees with a month to go. These bills include new drafts of the Debt Free Public Higher Education Act (S 829/H 1339) and other proposals related to affordable higher education, including “dedicating resources to higher education to ensure a strong and healthy public higher education system.” Ordinance”, the so-called “Cherish Act”, (S 824 /H 1325).
Although the measures have stalled, lawmakers sponsoring the legislation spoke of hope Thursday.
“This is the time to act on higher education,” said Eldridge, who sponsored the debt-free bill.