Funding increase sought to help campuses meet needs

The MTA is ramping up efforts to boost state funding for community colleges, state universities and UMass, which have been hit hard by budget cuts in recent years.

Over the last decade, state aid to public higher education has been reduced by 42 percent at the same time that student enrollment has reached an all-time high. In fiscal year 2010, Massachusetts ranked 48th out of the 50 states in terms of state and local fiscal support for public higher education as a share of personal income.

At a time when public dollars are scarce, every voice is needed to send the message to legislators who will be shaping the state budget in the upcoming months.

"It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish not to invest in our public higher education institutions,” said Joe LeBlanc, who serves as chairman of the MTA Higher Education Leadership Council and president of the Massachusetts Community College Council. “We drive the state’s economy and contribute to its workforce. There is no question of our value — we are the fuel.”

A lobby day promoting public higher education was held on Thursday, March 8, at the State House. On that day, key stakeholders representing all factions of public higher education — labor, management and students — joined forces to advocate for increased funding.

This was the first time — or at least the first time in years — that all of the sectors of public higher education were present and spreading the same message at the same time.

"We are in a desperate situation,” said MTA Executive Committee member Max Page, who is a professor at UMass Amherst. “We all need to make the case to stop the cuts and start reinvesting in Massachusetts public higher education.”

HELC, which is composed of officers representing all of the public higher ed sectors, has endorsed the lobby day as well as a legislation package. The legislation covers a range of issues, including increasing the number of full-time faculty members, offering pension benefits and access to health insurance to part-time instructors who teach a specified number of courses, and streamlining the legislative process for approving collective bargaining agreements for state employees.

Classified Staff Union President Shauna Manning emphasized the real need for everyone with a stake in public higher education to get involved in the fight for more funding. She urged everyone, including the new president of the UMass system, to take part in the effort.

"Please work with us to help secure additional funding,” said Manning, who represents education support professionals working on the UMass Boston campus. “All of us working together for a common purpose should be our core mission — instead of some of us fighting for the crumbs.

“We all need to get on the same page if we want lasting improvements,” she added. “For too long, we’ve been fighting for short-term solutions, instead of looking at the big picture and figuring out how we are going to improve.”

The governor has just submitted his budget proposal, which marks the beginning of a long and involved process. Debate will unfold in both the House of Representatives and the state Senate over the next several months and will likely end by July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.