Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts held an educational forum at UMass
On Thursday, in the Cape Cod Lounge, the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM), held an educational forum to discuss the issue of rising tuition and budget cuts called “Budget Crisis: UMass at the Tipping Point.”
“We are all members of the constituency. Faculty has been grumbling about budget cuts. Students have been complaining about fees,” said Louise Antony, a philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts. “Both have a common problem, and it would strengthen the pressure against the state if both groups join together.”
Antony spoke of how faculty and students feel they are pitted against each other, with students fearing the rise of tuition and fees, while faculty are wary of shrinking faculty and the slipping integrity of programs.
The stated mission of PHENOM is to “keep higher education available and affordable to students who cannot afford private educations,” said Antony, adding that, “We envision state-funded universities funded by a progressive tax that provides a quality education that all can attend. We would like to see a society with no need for private institutions of higher learning.”
Massachusetts is currently ranked 45th in the nation for state-funding given towards higher education, spending $206 per resident. The national average is 30 percent higher. For the cost of net tuition, including tuition and fees, and subtracting financial aid, Massachusetts is almost $1,000 more expensive than the national average. State colleges in Massachusetts recently lost $62 million in state funding after Gov. Deval Patrick announced budget cuts in late October.
To open the event, Andrew Prowten, a junior political science major, spoke of the financial issues he and his family have faced. “I’ve taken out about $20,000 in loans,” said Prowten.
He also spoke of rising interest rates that he was surprised to find himself facing. “My freshman year, I took out a $5,000 loan at a 2.5 percent rate. My father and I thought it was a great deal,” said Prowten. “Later I learned that my rates had raised to 12 percent, and could potentially rise higher.”
Prowten also spoke of his father’s necessary back surgery that has been delayed for three years, which would put him out of work as a contractor for six months, in order to help his son pay for school. Prowten spoke of a need for the University to help students better finance their educations and keep costs down as a state university.
Next, Jackie Walton, a graduate student, spoke of the need for an affordable healthcare plan. She spoke of her need to get a mammogram, yet her inability to pay the $200 deductible, as required of services not offered at University Health Services. “Having to choose between $200 that I do not have and healthcare has been very troublesome.”
Walton also explained that she is at high risk for breast cancer, and yet cannot afford to take early preventative measures. “Many members of my family, including my aunt, have had to have double mastectomies, and yet I have not been keeping up with precautionary measures despite being of the age most at risk,” said Walton.
A faculty member submitted a letter to the event anonymously about the pressures being placed upon professors. The letter read “I find it increasingly difficult to do my job as a professor and for it, I am ashamed.” It also spoke of the pressures to teach one-credit seminars and the increase of work as three-credit classes become four-credit classes. The letter cited budget constraints are not allowing departments to replace retired professors and possible furloughs with no promise of guaranteed positions to return to. This professor also touched on Chancellor Robert Holub’s plans to increase out-of-state student enrollment by 2,500, despite already overcrowded classrooms.
Corey Chenevert, a senior in the social though and political economy (STPEC) department spoke of the program’s plans to create revenue. Chenevert spoke of the department’s decision to recruit out-of-state students for the program in hopes of increasing both out-of-state admissions and funding for the department. “The department has a weekly meeting when we discuss potential ways to increase revenue,” said Chenevert. “Options included online classes, which is an unfeasible educational approach for STPEC. We decided to do more outreach.”
Chenevert spoke of traveling out-of-state to give speeches to private schools whose students can potentially afford the higher tuition. They traveled to New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, states outside of the New England region that pay in-state tuition for this department. To end his speech, Chenevert said, “I was disappointed that Massachusetts students were unable to hear my speech, causing the STPEC program to remain a hidden department.” He added, “The budget cuts are affectively resulting in the privatization of UMass.”
Also speaking at the event was state Rep. Peter V. Kocot, of the first Hampshire district, who discussed the need for University staff members and students to lobby to their representatives for funding. Kocot talked about his support for progressive taxes for public education, and called on students and faculty by saying “you need to engage this as a political battle,” and remarking, “this is a guerilla war.”
On the event, UMass junior Rachel Antony-Levine, a BDIC major said, “I believe college should be for everyone, and that all should be able to access state-funded higher education.” Antony-Levine hopes that Thursday’s event will “help UMass students realize that they own their education and have the ability to shape and control what they want their University to look like.”
Another student in attendance, Kelley Anne Curlay, a junior in the STPEC department, said “In today’s present economy, we, as residents of Massachusetts, need more state funding for higher learning institutions. Otherwise, it will lead to the privatization of the University.”
A mediator of the event Sam Dreyfus, spoke of PHENOM’s past work lobbying for state funding. For three years, the group has participated in a Spring Lobby Day. Each time, PHENOM has won increases in the MASSGrant Program, a financial assistance grant program that was almost cancelled last year. Dreyfus hopes this continued event will “build a state-wide movement,” adding, “When we get together and lobby, we can really make a difference.”
Michelle Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.