Students, faculty to legislators: Invest in us, invest in public higher education

Higher Ed Advocacy Day MCCC President Joe LeBlanc shares a laugh with Massasoit Community College student Heather Hilton at Massachusetts Public Higher Education Advocacy Day.

Faculty, staff, administrators and students representing Massachusetts’ public higher education institutions arrived at the State House on Public Higher Education Advocacy Day with the most convincing of arguments — their own personal stories.

Students from vastly different backgrounds spoke about the importance of public higher education and how they have benefited personally.

“If you have ever wondered what a miracle looked like, take a good look, because you are looking at one right now,” said Steven Fanus, a native of Barbados who struggled with a disability that prevented him from learning to read and write as a child. Fanus enrolled in an adult literacy class and is now on track to receive a communications degree from Bristol Community College.

The faculty and staff at BCC "opened my eyes to a world of possibilities that I on my own had never seen,” said Fanus, giving credit to Ron Weisberger, who coordinates tutoring at BCC and is an active member of the Massachusetts Community College Council.

“If you have ever wondered what a miracle looked like, take a good look, because you are looking at one right now.”

- Steven Fanus

Bristol Community College student

Weisberger brought 25 students, faculty and staff members from Bristol to the advocacy day on Wednesday, March 5. “Without funding,” he said, “we cannot do the work that needs to be done. Community colleges are open and accessible to everyone. We need resources to continue to help our students succeed.”

The current fiscal 2014 state budget includes an increase in state funding for public higher education, the first funding increase since 2000. But when adjusted for inflation, state funding for public higher education has declined by $537 million since 2000.

“That’s nearly a 33 percent drop – I’m not particularly proud of that fact,” said MCCC President Joe LeBlanc. “We are here to urge our allies at the State House to recommit to investing in our public higher education campuses now and in the future.”

LeBlanc called on legislators to commit to a 25-year plan to fund Massachusetts public higher education and asked activists to join with the 14,000 MTA higher education members in calling for “real change.”

LeBlanc also called for an end to the unfair treatment of adjunct faculty. In a report released last year called, "Reverse the Course," the MTA pointed out how reliant community colleges have become on adjuncts, yet how poorly these important members of the higher education community are treated.

The event gave faculty, students and administrators from UMass, state universities and community colleges an opportunity to speak with a unified voice in urging legislators to invest in the state’s higher education system. After a rally, the activists fanned out across the State House to visit their state representatives and senators to advocate for quality and affordable public higher education.

Sheri Denk, who coordinates special programs at Middlesex Community College, traveled to Boston with a van full of students and staff members.

“It’s important for students to see the bigger picture and how they fit into it – I think it gives them a really good connection to things and informs them about the civic role that they can play,” said Denk, as she and a group of students and staff headed off to Senator Eileen M. Donoghue’s office. “Their stories make a real difference.”

Cameron Pramas, a Worcester State University criminal justice student, said, “We’re some of the Commonwealth’s most valuable assets. We are the future graduates and more importantly, we’re the future workforce.”

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