Public Higher Ed Funding Bill Gathers Majority Support in Legislature

Public Higher Ed Funding Bill Gathers Majority Support in Legislature

Most Massachusetts state representatives and state senators are now co-sponsors of the Cherish Act, which addresses the state’s chronic underfunding of public colleges and universities.

"Together we can deliver the reinvestment in higher education that we know is needed." State Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton)

Eighty-three state representatives and 29 state senators have thus far endorsed the legislation, which implements the core findings of the state Higher Education Finance Commission. The commission found that state investment in public colleges and universities has dramatically declined from a peak in Fiscal Year 2001.

With public disinvestment in state colleges and universities, the cost burdens have shifted onto students while campuses are more easily subjected to privatization schemes, staff cuts and elimination of programs that support students.

State Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton) is the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, while Representative Sean Garballey (D-Arlington) and Representative Paul Mark (D-Peru) are the lead sponsors in the House.

“Ensuring access to higher education is a matter of equity and justice. Yet, in Massachusetts, when adjusted for inflation and enrollment changes, state appropriations for public higher education dropped by more than 26 percent between Fiscal Year 2001 and Fiscal Year 2020. The Cherish Act offers us one way to do better, and that’s why a majority of the Legislature has now signed on in support of this bill,” Comerford said. “Together we can deliver the reinvestment in higher education that we know is needed.”

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy said that passage of the Cherish Act is one step for the Legislature to take in dismantling structural racism in the form of disinvestment in public higher education, just as legislators did when passing the Student Opportunity Act.

“Students have been incurring more and more debt to attend our public colleges and universities, with those financial barriers being even more onerous for BIPOC students,” Najimy said. “The pandemic made it worse as we witnessed an alarming decline in BIPOC student enrollment, particularly at our public community colleges. The state must act now to make public colleges fully accessible and equipped with the staff and resources to meet the needs of a diverse student population.”

Garballey called the Cherish Act “landmark legislation” and said, "Our public higher education system has been in critical need of funding for too long. The Cherish Act is an investment in the young people of our Commonwealth and will provide hundreds of millions of much-needed dollars to our colleges and universities over the next several years."

Mark said that the Cherish Act is vital to the overall well-being of the state.

"Fully supporting our public colleges and universities is critical to the future success and growth of our Commonwealth,” he said. “I am excited to see that a majority of my colleagues in the legislature are supporting the Cherish Act and I look forward to working together to get this bill passed this session."

MTA Vice President Max Page said that investing in public higher education is a vital way to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Making higher education more accessible will strengthen our workforce and create more opportunities for people to earn higher incomes and improve their quality of life,” Page said. “Those attending Massachusetts public colleges and universities tend to remain in the state, so spending on public higher education becomes a long-term investment in the quality of our communities.”