Originally published in: http://www.leominsterchamp.com/articles/back-to-school-back-to-affordable-college/
The public higher education system in Massachusetts (and across the country) was designed to make college accessible to the working classes, with costs as close to zero as possible for students and their families. For more than a century, that remained true and was responsible for both America’s stunning economic growth and, especially after World War II, the growth of a broad middle class.
But, that does not seem to be a priority anymore.
In my lifetime, the state of Massachusetts has walked away from funding and affordable public higher education. As a result, the cost has risen dramatically to students and their families.
Until 1987, a student could attend UMass Amherst and graduate completely debt-free by working a 10-hour minimum-wage job during the school year. Now that same student graduates with an average of over $30,000 in debt, hampering their ability to choose a career they are most suited for, start a family, buy a house, and live without a weight of debt over their head.
We need to organize and fight to rebuild the promise of fully-funded public higher education to our citizens. At the same time, we must address the growing student debt crisis. There are a number of important bills before this Legislative Session, and I would like to bring some bills to your attention.
H3000 creates a scholarship to cover the entire cost of tuition and fees for any year after the first leading to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree at a Massachusetts public college or university for Massachusetts residents whose household income fall under twice the median household income. This is an important first step in restoring truly free and accessible public higher education in Massachusetts.
H2173 establishes a bill of rights for student loan borrowers in Massachusetts, licenses student loan servicers that operate in Massachusetts, and with those fees creates an office of the student loan ombudsman, to better educate and support student loan borrowers across the Commonwealth. Given the uncertainty of protections at the federal level, Massachusetts must step up and provide more support for the nearly 1 million student loan borrowers that carry more than $24 billion in student loan debt.
H116 establishes a loan repayment program for low-paid direct care staff that meet certain qualifications. Until we have universal assistance programs to support borrowers in making their payments like the Federal Income-Based Repayment Program, state-level programs that target loan repayment for areas of high need, like human service workers, can incentivize more individuals to enter the field and help them stay in areas like central and western Massachusetts. We already have similar programs in Massachusetts for certain health professionals, and the Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
I am happy to announce that the Joint Committee on Higher Education will be hosting a public hearing in Leominster on Monday, Sept. 11 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Leominster High School Auditorium.
For more information on the bills and programs mentioned, or the hearing, please contact me at Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov or at my office at (978) 227-5278.