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The Mass Media

Public Higher Education Hearing Urges Changes, Reforms

With another fee raise this year adding to the already high costs of public education in this state, many are concerned that the cost is prohibitive in providing the residents of the state to the education to which they are entitled. On Tuesday, April 15, a panel comprised of State Senators, student leaders, public higher ed officials and members of the Board of Trustees convened for a public hearing to discuss some of their concerns.

The proceedings opened with a statement from Student Trustee and Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts President Alexander Kulenovic, who addressed the current state of public higher education in the Commonwealth and issued a challenge to students throughout the system to be more proactive in fighting for their fees to be reduced.

“The main thing is that our public higher education system does so much for the state and it needs to get more funding than it does. A lot of the problems we have as students trickle down mostly from years of disinvestment from the state for a number of reasons…Legislators need to hear from us [the students], and until there is an organized and active constituency, it’s going to be difficult to make any kind of substantial changes.”

Next to speak was State Senator Robert O’Leary, a longtime advocate for public higher education, who brought a sobering message to the crowd about the realities of the funding crisis in the state’s funding of public higher ed institutions.

“I’m beginning to become a bit nervous. I see a state budget this year that is kind of coming apart at the seams,” Senator O”Leary cautioned. “State revenues are falling and the healthcare system is chewing up every additional dollar that we have; it’s now approaching fifty-percent of the state budget, and that’s simply a number that is frightening for most of us. We’re now wondering whether we can hang on to the appropriation that the Governor made for public higher ed. I see some dark clouds on the budgetary horizon, and that concerns me. We need to move appropriations for public higher ed up the list in terms of things that need to be funded at the state level.”

While concerned about the state budget, the Senator was optimistic about some changes in the short-term that have some, if small, benefits. A $2 billion bond bill coming out of the Public Higher Ed committee, of which O’Leary is the Chair, will hopefully provide some support. “A portion of your fees, particularly at the university level, have been sucked in to finance maintenance and new construction, and the state is going to step in and help [fund] that in a more serious way,” the Senator explained. “That will give the campuses more flexibility in the ability to hold down tuition and fees, and to the extent that that happens, it will provide some relief.”

The most moving part of the hearings came after the panel members had spoken when students from UMass Boston, as well as some from a contingent that came down from UMass Lowell, spoke about some of their own experiences in public higher education.

CPCS student and Student Senator Jenna Alderton spoke about her personal experience coming from the Midwest where she had spent the last few years working with abused and neglected children. Alderton has been in the upper management of a number of advocacy organizations, but came to UMB, and specifically CPCS, looking to further her education so that she can be a better advocate for the children and communities she works with. Like many students, Alderton is already dealing with paying off student loans from her previous schooling, and the extra burden of paying for her education in a system which is supposed to be heavily publicly supported can at times be overwhelming.

CPCS student Dawn Al-Shurafa has a nine year old son who is the product of a sexual assault and has devoted herself to field of criminal justice. After working as a corrections officer in New Hampshire for three years, Al-Shurafa attended and graduated Middlesex College with grades strong enough to allow her to attend the institution of her choice. However, with a young child to support and a fantastic program in CPCS available at a public institution, Al-Shurafa eschewed more traditionally known criminal justice programs in the city to attend UMass Boston. Being a single mother and a college student, Al-Shurafa has quite a lot on her plate, and the added strain from the already high cost of public education and rising fees does not make things any easier.

Over the next two weeks, students from PHENOM and other public higher education advocacy groups will be focusing their attention on the state legislature in an attempt to lobby for some major reforms in the way the system is funded. If you are interested in learning more or learning how you can be involved, please visit the PHENOM website at phenomonline.org.

About the Contributor
Ben Whelan served for the following positions at The Mass Media for the following years: Editor-in-Chief: Spring 2009; 2009-2010. News Editor: Spring 2008; Fall 2008 Sports Editor: 2006-2007