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Public Higher Education Advocacy Day

By Lorenzo Nencioli, Membership Coordinator, UMass Faculty Staff Union


On Tuesday, March 5th, hundreds of students, faculty, and staff from around the state, including a large contingent from UMass Boston, gathered at the State House for the Public Higher Education Advocacy Day. Their goal was simple: tell their legislators to support Governor Patrick’s proposal to increase public higher education spending by $152 million in 2014.

Currently, Massachusetts’ state funding for public higher education is among the lowest in the country, while tuition and fees are among the highest. Governor Patrick has proposed increasing taxes and targeting new funds for education, from preschool through graduate school, as well as for transportation improvements. Under his plan, public higher education would receive approximately $60 million in new funding for our campuses and more than $100 million in new funding for student financial aid.

The event kicked off with a bang in the Gardner Auditorium as Governor Patrick himself rallied the crowd. He spoke eloquently of his generation’s obligation to offer the state’s young people the same educational and economic opportunities that he had. Other speakers, including UMass Boston Student Trustee Alexis Marvel, reminded us that working class students already face great hardships when it comes to balancing work, life and college and that without adequate resources and lower tuition and fees, they will fall further behind their private school cohort and further widen the already growing income and educational gaps.

Holyoke Community College student Nicole Ouimette told the crowd that she’ll be graduating with $20,000 in debt this spring, despite the fact that she juggles school with two part time jobs. “This is nothing new for me and students like me who go to community college. I got my first job at fifteen. While my peers were saving up to buy their first car, I was helping my parents pay bills. Community college was it for me. I could not afford anything other than HCC, and even at HCC I have struggled financially. This should not be a reality, but it is. Education is devalued. Education is not accessible for everyone from every economic status. Education is not a right. But it should be.”

Advocacy Day attendees then visited the offices of their senators and representatives to lobby in support of the Governor’s funding proposal. A group that included members of several UMass Boston unions met with Senator Sonia Chang Diaz. A number of students spoke passionately to the senator’s staff about the economic struggles they have faced in their efforts to attain a college education.

They said that without an affordable public higher education option, they would be forced to withdraw. 

Students also pointed out just how essential graduates of Massachusetts’ institutes of public higher education are to the local economy. According to the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM), an estimated 80% of  graduates of public higher education remain in the state.

UMass Boston instructors Phil Chassler (American Studies) Amy Todd (Anthropology) and Jonathan Millman (Economics) were part of a group that met with Senator Pat Jehlen. They were joined by students from Framingham State and Bunker Hill Community College. Says Chassler: “I was impressed by the large turnout, the enthusiasm and school pride of the many students, and the chance to meet with union colleagues from other schools.”

Once lobbying was wrapped up, the entire Advocacy Day crowd reconvened at the Grand Staircase for lunch. There was a palpable feeling of excitement in the air. While some veterans from previous Advocacy Days might have felt a touch jaded after years of lobbying at the state house, the enthusiasm of the students was evident. For many of them, this was the first time they had ever exercised their right to lobby their elected representatives and they were energized by the process.