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PHENOM rallies support for public higher education

Amidst the current economic crisis, public higher education is feeling the strain and putting more of a load on students.

The Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts or PHENOM, came to the University of Massachusetts on Sunday, Jan. 31 to kick-off their initiative to raise investment on higher education and lower costs to students.

Massachusetts is currently ranked as number 46 nationwide in the percent of the budget reserved for public education. PHENOM’s goal is to raise the state’s 3.9 percent to the nation’s 6.5 percent average. This goal was expressed with buttons passed among the members of the crowd which read, “race to the median.” 

Massachusetts spends 40 percent less per resident than the national average, and has experienced a 25.6 percent decrease in support for higher education, according to the PHENOM website.

The PHENOM initiative is a kick-off of a multi-year plan to raise awareness across all publicly funded universities. According to Max Page, co-founder of PHENOM, the goal is to create a coalition of students, parents, relatives and faculty to raise awareness for Massachusetts’ lack of funding for higher education

The keynote speaker of the event was Victor Sanchez, president of the University of California Student Association.
Sanchez, a first-generation college student, helped to organize protests and walk-outs in California in protest of the 32 percent fee increase in the UC system.

Sanchez pointed out that advocates are “not alone” in their struggle for more affordable education. In order to gain support for his cause Sanchez collaborated with different organizations across the public higher education system in California.

According to Sanchez, there is always a diversity of ideas regarding how to take action, but there is “constant collaboration,” between different factions. He said that it is important for organizers of events to be as “inclusive as possible.”

At UC Berkeley, a protest to stop the fee hike turned out 3,000 students, leading to police involvement. Sanchez will be marching in Washington on Feb. 20 in a continued effort to subdue fee hikes and gain support for the funding of higher education.

PHENOM is pooling man power and resources from the UMass campus and other public higher education facilities, according to Max Page, co-founder of PHENOM.

Ali Lipman, a UMass-Lowell student spoke to the group, saying she found out about PHENOM through the social networking site Facebook. Lipman said that she also found many “passionate students” interested in giving out pamphlets and getting signatures for petitions.

“We deserve to have our dreams fulfilled,” Lipman said. “It is our right to learn and be successful.”

State Sen. Stan Rosenberg spoke to the group about the ramifications of a groundswell of grassroots support.

“We need to put aside what divides us, and focus on something that affects all of us,” Rosenberg said. “There are more than a million people in Massachusetts whose health and wellness is dependent on higher education. If all of those voices speak up they will be heard.”

“I guarantee at least 80 percent of the legislators will sign a pledge to deliver on a program to bring costs down to the national average,” he added. “Massachusetts wants to be more than just average, but more than average. Education is a fundamental right, not a privilege.

Heidi McCann, PHENOM Board member and UMass alum spoke of her time at UMass. “My work as a UMass undergraduate at the UMass library, and my experience with UMass professors made me extremely proud of this university,” said McCann.

“I am deeply ashamed of the way the state is disrespecting or system,” McCann added, “if you are not outraged you’re not paying attention.”

According to Gov. Deval Patrick’s released budget for 2011, the UMass system was allocated $451,272,589 from the state budget and $49,317,776 in federal stimulus.

“Education manufactures better human beings,” said Randy Phillis, a parent of a UMass journalism major student, “It is deeply wrong if only extraordinarily wealthy individuals can send their children to college.”

Emily Krems, a high school guidance counselor, voiced her concerns whether she is going to have to tell students that they will not be able to go to school solely because the money is not there.

The PHENOM website has links that allow users to keep track of events, sign a petition to legislatures and donate to the cause.

PHENOM will be holding another information session Thursday, Feb.. 4 in the campus center room 903 located on the UMass campus, and is open to all who are interested.

Bobby Hitt can be reached at rhitt@student.umass.edu

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