MASSPIRG holds panel discussing college affordability

The event was in part of MASSPIRG’s college affordability campaign


(Jones Library/ Creative Commons/ Flickr)

By Alvin Buyinza, Assistant News Editor

As part of their plan to promote their college affordability campaign, MASSPIRG, a student-run organization, hosted a panel of speakers in the Campus Center on Wednesday. The panel consisted of Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, Digital Product Manager of the DuBois Library Jeremy Smith, University of Massachusetts Architecture Professor Max Page, Student Government Association President Timmy Sullivan and Vice President Nathalie Amazan, who all spoke on ways to reduce the rising cost of college in Massachusetts.

The event began with a speech presented by Sen. Rosenberg on legislative plans taken by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to tackle college affordability.

According to Rosenberg, last year Sen. Erick Lesser of Longmeadow and State Legislator Ryan Fattman began the millennial initiative visiting different areas of the nation meeting with college students to understand their issues with college affordability.

Using information from the organization the Millennial Initiative, an advocacy group influencing worldwide politics, the Commonwealth was able to pass three pieces of legislation. The first being a financial literacy bill which allows for high school students to gain access to financial literacy courses, so they can understand the ramifications of taking out loans and student debt.

The second piece of legislation passed was the Increased Disclosure Bill, which offers financial clarity between the costs of universities.

Lastly, the final piece of legislation passed was the Student Bill of Rights, which prevents loan companies from keeping away information students would need upon applying for a loan, or “unreasonably” increasing interest rates.

However, Rosenberg’s main point to tackle on the issue of college affordability was the necessity of money. According to him, this November college students will be able to vote for a four percent tax increase toward individuals in Massachusetts who make more than one million dollars a year.

He then stressed that the money gained from the tax increase on the wealthy could be used toward an education budget.

“The best way to reduce student debt is to increase state appropriation to the budget,” Rosenberg said.

Additionally, Rosenberg also stressed the importance of UMass, along with other state colleges, working together on an agreement to reduce the cost of college and to not become divided.

“One of the best ways to fail in the legislature is to divide ourselves,” he said.

The next speaker, Smith, spoke on the lack of affordable textbook materials in college.

Smith began his speech by explaining what open education resources are. According to Smith, OERs are copyright-free, open access publications.

Some examples of popular OERs are learning objectives, open journals, open textbooks and online modules.

He then presented a PowerPoint slide showing the yearly cost of textbooks being $1,250. The presentation also showed a graph showing that the cost of college textbooks has risen 945 percent since 1978.

Smith said according to a survey he conducted at UMass, 39.9 percent of students have not purchased textbooks due to their cost and 24.1 percent of students download a textbook for free, from what Smith said is a third-party website.

In response to the rising costs, Smith offered OERs as a solution, stating that it encourages the creation of new teaching materials, library supplemental materials and development of technologies in the classroom.

When asked by an audience member in the room how OERs can be helpful in diversity of thought, Smith suggested that students use multiple OERs in their coursework.

Rep. Goldstein-Rose also spoke on the ways to activate young people to get involved with state politics.

The first thing Goldstein-Rose commented on was the lack of attendance in the audience by the UMass student body. Goldstein-Rose estimated that only 40 out of 30,000 students were in the room where the panel was held.

He then commented on the strong need for students to become proactive in their politics.

“Everyone in the legislature supports affordable education. This is not something you need to convince people to support, this is something you need people to act on,” Goldstein-Rose said.

He then gave strong examples for ways students can become proactive about their politics. One of his suggestions being a monthly email on issues that pertain to affordable education and how it affects people from different perspectives.

To Goldstein-Rose, monthly emails allow legislators to understand the urgency of an issue and create a connection to the community.

Goldstein-Rose also suggested that students create a bond with their local congressmen and politicians, so they too can understand how certain issues relate to their personal life.

The last piece of advice he offered was for more young people to run for office straight out of college.

Page then spoke on the fair share amendment, which if passed would pour more money into high education, thus reducing the cost.

“We are in the best opportunity to infuse more money into education than we have ever had,” Page said.

When asked what, if any, were the major push backs against the amendment, Page responded by saying “big businesses” who don’t like getting taxed.

Lastly, Sullivan and Amazan gave closing remarks at the panel stating their plans to support affordable education at UMass. Sullivan stated that he was in support of the S.681 bill, which pushes for a debt free higher education.

Alvin Buyinza can be reached at [email protected] followed on Twitter at abuyinza_news.