Compromising our future

According to a recent Boston Globe article, Massachusetts has made some of the deepest cuts to higher education in the nation over the last five years. Between 2004 and 2009, Massachusetts has slashed funding per student by 13.3 percent, while nationally, per-student funding rose by 4 percent.

Since 2009, state appropriation for public higher education has dropped an additional 12 percent.

Massachusetts already ranks 46th in the nation in terms of per capita spending on public higher education.  How much lower can we go? And what happens when we don’t adequately support public higher education?

  • Campuses try to compensate by raising fees, making public colleges less affordable.
  • Students, especially those with lower incomes, decide they can’t afford to attend.
  • Colleges cut staff and compromise essential services like academic advising.

The average tuition and fees at Massachusetts public 4-year institutions as of 2009 is already $7,922, 33% higher than the national average of $5,950. The average tuition and fees at Massachusetts public 2-year institutions (2009) is $3,071, 49% higher than the national average of $2,063.

By cutting public support even further, we are shifting the burden of public higher education to many residents of the Commonwealth who can least afford it, especially as our support for need-based financial aid has declined by over 50% over the last 20 years.

It’s undeniable that our system needs to do a better job of graduating students and connecting them with jobs in our high growth industries, and we should have better performance measures and incentive pay for increasing credential attainment rates for all students, including adults and part-time students.   Still, the public higher education system is a better alternative than many of the for-profit schools that are so good at marketing their programs but often leave students with crushing debt and without meaningful credentials.

And, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we have significantly under-funded public higher education for years.  We need to catch up.

The bottom line is that cuts to this part of our educational system compromise the future of our workforce and thus the  strength of our economy.  85% of Massachusetts public higher education students stay in Massachusetts and work here upon graduation.  The value of the increased earnings of college graduates over their lifetime is 9.4 times greater than the cost to the state of their education.

Given that 44 percent of our jobs are middle-skill (requiring some post-secondary education) and another 36 percent are high skill  (requiring at least a four-year college degree), shouldn’t we be investing more in the system that prepares our residents for employment and helps keep these jobs in our state?

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