Student debt remains a pressing issue on any college campus, but particularly at public universities in Massachusetts. I know multiple students who have either dropped out of school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst or have made financial sacrifices – such as access to a meal plan – to pay for tuition and fees.

The average University of Massachusetts student in the Class of 2017 graduated with $31,860 in debt – it’s cited across the board as the main reason students drop out. Even if students are able to graduate, for every dollar of student debt there is a correlated four dollars of lifetime wealth loss, and a combined $100 million wealth loss in Massachusetts. This means graduates are less likely to buy a car or home or overall be able to stimulate the economy.

From my junior year at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School I was told by teachers and guidance counselors to go to a public school while pursuing higher education, and although my debt will be lower than if I went to a private college, I will assuredly be paying off student loans for years. I am lucky enough to have parents contributing to my education costs, but it should not be assumed all parents are willing or able. Furthermore, graduation and retention gaps are observable and statistically noticeable among low-income, first-generation, English-language learner students and students with disabilities.

The increasing cost of public universities is a directly result of decreasing funding from the state Legislature. Since 2001, state funding has fallen by nearly a third; subsequently, in-state tuition has increased $5,400 and UMass students are footing the bill. The simple solution is for the state to reinvest in public higher education for the betterment of Massachusetts’ economy and its residents.

The Fund Our Future bills, the Promise Act and Cherish Act, would reinvest $1 billion in public K-12 education and $500 million in public higher education. This could cut tuition and fees drastically by restoring funding to what it was in 2001, adjusted for inflation. The Debt Free Future Act would further increase funding to make higher education affordable. State Sen. Pat Jehlen has already co-sponsored each of the Fund Our Future bills; I challenge all legislators, specifically in Cambridge, to show their support. Under the organization of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, students, faculty and parents will be going to the State House to lobby their support March 21. If you’d like to join, register with the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts. To learn more, contact Phenom at info@phenomonline.org.

Adrienne Ashe
Cambridge Rindge and Latin School ’17, University of Massachusetts at Amherst ’22