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UMass students gather in Boston to advocate for higher-education affordability

(Collegian File Photo)

Students from public universities and colleges in Massachusetts gathered in the State House in Boston to advocate against rising tuition and schooling fees on Wednesday for Advocacy Day.

The event, hosted by the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, was held at the State House, and allowed students to share their personal stories of affording college with legislators and representatives. Students asked for legislators to invest in faculty and campuses and protect immigrant students and communities. Students specifically were asked to lobby for the Finish Line Grant, a bill that provides one year of free tuition and fees after a student’s first year.

Although State Sen. Stan Rosenberg was unavailable, his Senior Legislative Aide Stephen Maher, was able to give insight to Rosenberg’s stance. Maher talked about Rosenberg attending the University of Massachusetts and how “It took him almost 10 years to get that degree because, like many of you, he did not have a support structure that was able to pay for him to go to college.”

“Higher education will continue to be a priority for Stan,” Maher said.

State Rep. Jack Patrick Lewis, despite being one of Framingham’s representatives, was happy to sit down with UMass students to discuss public higher education. Lewis explained the most effective way to advocate is to write emails and personal letters sharing your story to your representative and state senator.

“We need to do everything in our power to make sure that everyone who lives in the Commonwealth has access to higher education,” Lewis said.

Lily Wallace, a UMass senior political science and BDIC major and Student Government Association vice president, explained the SGA’s role in Advocacy Day. The Center for Education Policy & Advocacy puts on the event, while the SGA financially helps out and takes a lot of ownership in the logistics (i.e. transportation and food). The SGA wants CEPA to focus, “mostly on working collaboratively with organizations like PHENOM to create the demands, see the progress, and do the research that you’re seeing.”

Wallace attended the three previous Advocacy Days because she needs to work four jobs in order to pay for the costs of school that her scholarships and federal aid do not cover. Working multiple jobs has caused her to fall behind a semester, ultimately leading to more education costs and student loans.

“These people in the ivory tower are here and need to have their policies humanized,” she said.

Zac Bears, the executive director of PHENOM, shared how his family was middle class growing up and made just above the median income. Despite earning scholarships and partially paying out of pocket, Bears had to take out thousands of dollars in loans. He claims he was lucky to have only $30,000 of student debt.

Bears says the only solution is to have, “empowered, informed and engaged people coming together to create and discuss in this democratic society.” He urged people to “be informed, be loud [and] be engaged.”

State Rep. Natalie Higgins shared her own personal student debt struggle. After graduating from UMass, she attended graduate school and racked up $100,000 of debt.

“It makes every decision that I make a little bit harder–well, a lot harder,” she said.

“We all deserve public higher education,” PHENOM student organizer Amy Blanchette said.

“High-quality higher education is the right of every student in Massachusetts,” Matt Patton from Fair Shot for All said.

Monica Bhakhri, a junior from Worcester State University motivated attendees, stating, “We are the future of the Commonwealth.”

Following the rally, speaking program and meeting with legislators, UMass students were invited to the UMass Club for the IMPACT reception.

Abigail Charpentier can be reached at acharpentier@umass.edu and followed on Twitter

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