Students to bring several goals to Advocacy Day

By Marie MacCune

Alex Aritan/Daily Collegian
Alex Aritan/Daily Collegian

Students from all 29 Massachusetts public college and university campuses will be heading to the State House to lobby legislators during Massachusetts Public Higher Education Advocacy Day on Wednesday.

The event is being coordinated in large part by the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) and the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy.

Ferd Wulkan, communications director for the grassroots advocacy group PHENOM, expects that at least 100 students will be in attendance from the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus alone and estimates that almost 600 people will attend overall, including students, faculty and staff.

In regards to this year’s lobbying focus, Wulkan said, “It is definitely to remind and convince the legislature to follow through with what they began last year. They took a big step in reaching the 50-50 plan and we want to continue in that direction.”

Johannes Raatz, a UMass student studying social thought and political economy as well as economics, is the access and affordability core-team leader for CEPA and is also working to coordinate the event.

“Our message is about college affordability,” Raatz said. “Because this is a public institution, the state has a lot of control over that. We want to thank the legislature for the increased funding they passed last year, and to ask for more.

“For the UMass system specifically, which consists of the five UMass campuses, we’re asking for $40 million,” Raatz continued, adding that this funding would enable a second year of tuition and fee freezes for the university system.

The cost of education has risen consistently throughout the decade and according to Raatz, a lot of lower income students are being left behind.,

“If we look at income numbers compared to tuition and fee costs, you have some families needing to use a third of their income towards college,” he said.

Raatz said that Massachusetts is lacking specifically in early and higher education. Kindergarten through 12th grade remains fairly strong.

“In recent years, a bigger portion of our budget has been diverted to health care,” Raatz said. “Prison costs are also another large portion of the state budget. Massachusetts is one of the few states that spends the same amount or more on its prisons as it does on education.”

Raatz hopes that as the state looks into other health care system options, such as a single-payer system, more revenue will become available for education.

Similarly, Raatz believes that if more money is put into education systems, including those used at prisons, the state will be able to proactively reduce prison demands in the future.

A tuition and fee freeze is not the only goal, however. According to Raatz, they will also be advocating for $100 million more for the Massachusetts State Scholarship Program and $14 million to fund collective bargaining at UMass.

In terms of reaching their goals, Raatz is optimistic.

“The Governor’s numbers came in pretty close to ours, so we’re hoping that as the budget goes through the appropriate committees, such as the Ways and Means in the House, we will reach our goal,” Raatz said.

Wulkan had similar sentiments saying, “I think the day is going to be incredibly successful. Legislators were very receptive and responsive to our students last time, but there are a lot of competing interests in the state. We have to remind them of the importance of higher education.”

Raatz believes the Senate will be the biggest barrier.

“Compared to the House, members of the Senate are more fiscally conservative and may put up resistance to increased funding,” he said. “But, we’ve reached a crisis in this state and in the nation in terms of student debt. And, I’m seeing the pendulum swinging back towards more funding for public education so kids can go to and stay in college.”


Marie MacCune can be reached at [email protected]