Letter: Join the movement against student debt

By Opinion & Editorial Staff

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(Jessica Picard/ Daily Collegian)

Ask anyone on campus if they enjoy watching the digits of their own personal student debt-counter increase, and you will probably receive a resounding no. Ask anyone if they believe burdening a student with thousands of dollars of debt while receiving a quality education is a good idea and you will likely receive the same answer.

Every year, the state government in Boston approves an annual budget which includes state appropriations for public higher education institutions. Currently, 22 percent of the University of Massachusetts’ revenue come from state appropriations. Thus, it can be assumed that a decrease in state funding would lead to an increase in tuition fees to make up for the cuts—that is the exact problem we students in Massachusetts face today. But, if the state were to increase funding to lift the weight of student debt off our shoulders, we would all be in a much better financial situation then we are currently in.

Since 2001, higher education funding and spending per student by the State Scholarship Program has fallen by 31 percent. The fall in per-student spending amounts to a decrease of around $4,000 per in-state student. Meanwhile, tuition and fees for in-state students have jumped by $5,400. Compared to other states in the country, Massachusetts ranks 21st in higher education spending per student, adjusted to the cost of living.

Furthermore, student debt is financially detrimental to students individually and to the economy. For each dollar of student debt, there is an associated four dollars of wealth loss. Because students accumulate so much debt while they are enrolled in a university, by the time they graduate they are discouraged to take on other forms of debt such as mortgages and auto loans. This can lead to shrinkages in consumer spending, property values and tax revenues.

However, what’s great about UMass being a public school is that it does not have to be like this. The state can increase funding for public universities to end tuition fees. All it takes is a few keystrokes.

Alas, anyone familiar with state politics knows that we cannot just expect politicians to do this on their own. What we need is a movement – a state-wide movement to put students first and demand that the state government must end tuition fees for institutions of public higher education. The good news is that there already is one! The Center for Education and Policy Advocacy (CEPA) on campus is building a mass mobilization campaign to fight for affordable higher education. Over the coming weeks, CEPA will be hosting several events from documentary screenings to student forums to spread awareness about the current student debt crisis. Next month, students here and from across the state will be convening at the statehouse for a massive rally to push tuition-free higher education to the forefront of the state’s political agenda.

Now is the perfect time for action. Now is the perfect time to put students first. Now is the perfect time to be part of this campaign.

CEPA meets every Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. in room 423A of the Student Union.

Jonathan Blum

UMass CEPA Affordable Higher Education Campaign