Patrick’s higher education plan a smart move for Massachusetts

By Editorial Board

Shehla Hussain/Collegian

Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle postulated, “The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living differ from the dead.” This theory permeates early American politics; Thomas Jefferson felt that the only safe repository of power was in an educated populace. Education is key to the stability and growth of our Commonwealth, and Governor Deval Patrick’s education proposal makes the key investments needed to create an ambitious and informed labor force and make Massachusetts competitive in an increasingly global economy.

A recent Boston Globe column co-written by the Chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees presents some stark statistics. In 2018, 70 percent of jobs in Massachusetts will require a college degree, the most in the nation, while over 52 percent of all undergraduates attend a public institution of higher education and most remain in state. With state colleges and universities training many of these workers, an investment in public education benefits every business, non-profit, co-op and government agency.

The benefits extend to the current students as well, as the plan proposes an unprecedented funding increase in scholarships for students attending colleges in Massachusetts, both public and private, according to MassLive. The funding would increase from $87 million this year to $199 million next year, doubling the available funds. Most of this assistance would go to students that require financial aid. MassLive also reports that the plan would increase funding for the UMass system by about $40 million. Patrick’s plan attempts to fully fund the amount requested by the UMass Board of Trustees in December 2012.

In reference to the proposal, Robert Caret, president of the UMass System, said to MassLive; “If those dollars are in the budget, we will definitely freeze fees and tuition. Actually, very pleased to do it.”

This would provide breathing room for current students, as MassLive reports the University has averaged a 5 percent fee increase each year for the past five years. Last year, the trustees added 4.9 percent in fees for an average of $13,242 in fees and $10,000 in room and board for students at the Amherst campus. Tuition was only $857 per semester during the 2012-2013 academic year, according to data from the UMass Office of the Bursar website.

Public opinion slightly favors the tax reform and investment plan. The latest UMass Lowell-Boston Herald poll shows that Patrick’s plan, which raises income taxes for some higher-income Massachusetts residents while lowering the sales tax to 4 percent for all residents and funding the transportation and education investments, has the support of 47.9 percent of residents, while 45.6 percent oppose. While the public may seem split, the students, prospective students and parents invested in the Commonwealth’s public universities welcome relief from the relenting pace of cost increases at all of the state’s institutions.

Numbers, polls and reminders about the deep roots of education merely support the idea of public higher education. The diverging experiences of UMass alumni, who work in professions around the Commonwealth, show that an investment in the youth of Massachusetts is an investment in the future of Massachusetts. The legacy of the UMass system is one of growth and achievement that deserves to be protected.

A core mission of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, which provided the land for this University, is “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.” Governor Patrick’s education plan takes a strong step toward reinforcing higher education in Massachusetts. With most states focused on other priorities, investing in public higher education will make the Commonwealth a competitive location for research funding and high-achieving students. Promoting “liberal and practical education” must not entail saddling students at public universities with high levels of student debt. By returning funding to levels that will reduce the cost of attendance at the University of Massachusetts, the state will take a small step toward ensuring the average person’s ability to discover the many “pursuits and professions in life.”

Unsigned editorals represent the majority opinion of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian Editorial Board, members of which can be reached at [email protected]