Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Students lobby for higher education funding at State House Monday

By Joseph Carstairs

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Joseph Carstairs/Daily Collegian)

(Joseph Carstairs/Daily Collegian)

BOSTON – Approximately 300 students and advocates flocked to the Massachusetts State House Great Hall of Flags Monday afternoon to lobby for increased funding for higher education as part of an event organized by the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts.

The 5th Annual Public Higher Education Advocacy Day, which took place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., gave students the opportunity to share personal stories with their state representatives in hopes to receive pledges for increased funding.

Phillip Duarte, a 19-year-old sophomore and BDIC major in public health and advocacy at the University of Massachusetts, made the trip to Boston to participate. Duarte stressed the importance of the influence that legislators have on public higher education which he believes “a lot of students don’t realize.”

“There are so many other issues that the state legislators make decisions on, (but) I think public higher education is the most important considering it is affecting myself and everyone at UMass,” Duarte said.

Duarte gathered with other students from his state district and spoke with Sen. Marc Pacheco’s legislative aide. Pacheco’s aide explained that the senator has always been a strong supporter of higher education aid.

The event was aimed to connect students with the legislators who would be deciding whether or not to approve Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed budget in the coming months. Baker’s proposal includes a one percent increase in funding in the UMass system’s budget.

For the fiscal year 2017, Baker proposed a budget of $508.2 million. After factoring in tuition payments, the UMass system is eying a budget of roughly $539 million, despite requesting a budget of just over $570 million, according to MassLive.

Leading up to the event, UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy sent out a campus-wide email encouraging students to participate in Advocacy Day. In the email, Subbaswamy stated that while administration is grateful for the increase, it is not sufficient to cover mandated costs for the upcoming year.

The event then kicked off with a program led by Natalie Higgins, executive director of PHENOM. Students with education levels ranging from community college to graduate then spoke about the tribulations experienced in relation to student debt.

Juhi Dasi, a student of Springfield Technical Community College and a speaker at the opening program, said, “Public Higher Education’s Advocacy Day gives us the chance to provide the chance to pave the way for future college students.”

After the program, advocates prepared for their visits with legislators and received role assignments within lobbying groups. Some roles included speaker and recorder.

Once preparations were made, groups individually headed to their legislator’s office to be welcomed by an aide or the legislators themselves.

Derek Dunlea, a sophomore political science and economics major at UMass, spoke with Sen. Brian A. Joyce’s aide regarding steep academic book prices.

“I know people who have spent over $900 to $1,000 for books in one semester and for similar online access codes. For an economics class that I’m in right now, I only got the book online for $5, but the online access code in order to do quizzes was $120,” Dunlea said.

Dunlea mentioned how most of the books students end up buying will have less academic credibility in future, rendering them obsolete.

He added that most professors who want to write an open source textbook, a more cost-effective alternative for students, only receive a $1,000 stipend, which he said was not enough compensation for all their hard work.

Joyce’s aide offered a personal anecdote about higher education, saying, “I, personally, am very in favor of funding for higher education in decreasing debt for people who want to pursue higher education.”

Joseph Carstairs can be reached at [email protected].

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