Official Publication of the Massachusetts Teachers Association
Volume 47, No. 4
MTA on the Web
Advocacy day focuses on higher ed funding
By Scott McLennan
M ore than 300 students, educators, social justice advocates and legislators — and even a few college presidents — turned
out for a recent Public Higher Education Advocacy
Day at the State House.
They filled the Great Hall before heading off to
speak with state representatives and senators about
the necessity of increasing state funding for public
colleges and universities.
The Public Higher Education Network of
Massachusetts organized the advocacy day, which
was held on March 1. PHENOM Executive Director
Zac Bears’ opening remarks framed the urgency of
properly funding public higher education.
Per-student state financial support for public
higher education has dropped by 31 percent since
2001, he said, while tuition and fees have risen by
$4,000 over the same time period.
The situation goes beyond keeping many
students from accessing higher education, Bears
said. It also saddles those who do attend with huge
amounts of debt.
“The only way we can solve this problem is
to have empowered, informed and engaged people
come together and decide democratically how we
are going to handle this,” Bears said. He added that
it is also an economic justice issue, citing people
who are busy working two or three jobs to pay off
their education debts and do not have the time to
participate in lobby days or similar activities.
Students, staff and faculty members from
across the public higher education system — UMass
campuses, state universities and community colleges
— gathered to hear the speakers and then share their
personal stories with legislators. They tied those
stories to their advocacy for specific legislative
Participants in the lobby day, which is held
annually, pushed for passage of a bill including a
Finish Line Grant, which would cover one year of
tuition and fees; passage of fully funded campus
budgets and collective bargaining agreements; and
passage of the Fair Share Amendment, which faces
one more vote by the Legislature before it can be
brought to voters in November 2018.
The amendment, which would generate
almost $2 billion a year for public education and
transportation, calls for an additional tax of four
percentage points on annual income over $1 million.
Advocates also supported legislation that
calls for better pay and benefits for adjunct faculty
and bills that would better protect undocumented
immigrant students and their families.
UMass Boston professor Joseph Ramsey
delivered a fiery message about the assault on
public higher education, which arrives in a “hidden
argument” delivered by those in power amid a
narrative about scarce resources. If unchallenged,
that argument manifests itself in shrinking state
funding for public colleges and increased debt for
students attending public colleges.
“As budgets are cut, as class sizes are increased,
as tuition is raised and students need to work more
and more hours just to stay in that classroom, the
time for critical-thinking education becomes more
and more difficult to have, but becomes more and
more important,” Ramsey said.
MTA President Barbara Madeloni encouraged
students who were heading out to meet legislators,
reminding them that the defeat of Question 2,
the charter school expansion initiative on the
ballot last November, carried with it an important
“People in Massachusetts have a deep
commitment to public education,” she said. “And
what people believe is in contrast to the narrative
that we need to do more with less and that there isn’t
more money to fund public colleges. The people are
Students, faculty and staff from public colleges and universities across the Commonwealth
rallied at the State House on March 1. They asked legislators to increase funding for public
higher education so that tuition and fees stop rising, programs stay in place, and students are
not forced to take on large amounts of debt.
Photo by Scott McLennan