Doubling the amount of state-funded financial aid for public higher education students to $400 million annually is among the state board’s recommendations to take advantage of a “unique moment of opportunity” in education funding.
The Higher Education Council voted unanimously Tuesday to make a set of recommendations, calling for reforms and reinvestment in the public higher education system aimed at making it more equitable and addressing the rising costs of attending college or university.
The board also recommends that the state provide additional funding resources to support low-income students, expand the Ministry of Higher Education’s ability to invest in the Higher Education Innovation Fund, codify the state’s obligation to fund faculty salary increases through collective bargaining agreements and provide more transparency about tuition fees. for students.
The board hired management consulting firm EY-Parthenon last year to conduct the Strategic Review of Public Higher Education Financing, which led to the policy recommendations the board voted on Tuesday.
Board Chairman Chris Gabrielli called this moment a “window of opportunity,” with declining enrollments, rising student costs and debt, and persistent equality gaps in higher education. The state will soon see an influx of money for public education and transportation due to voters’ adoption of a constitutional amendment imposing an additional 4% tax on family income of more than $1 million annually.
“This is not just a random moment,” said Gabrielli. “So much has been said about–the explicit assignment of the first question to public colleges and universities as one of the three uses, it really calls into question, ‘Do we have, what might be called using an archaic term, a plan ready for the shovel? ‘” ’ … Fortunately, 13 months of work, or 15 months really, have culminated in a moment where I believe we can bring a responsible and thoughtful plan forward.”
The recommendations add to a growing pile of demands as competing interests position themselves for a share of the additional income tax funding, as early education and K-12 stakeholders vie for a share as well as countless interests in public transit.
The policy initiatives proposed by the Board would collectively amount to approximately $400 million in increased investment in public higher education, which would represent a 20% increase over current annual appropriations. Today, the state contributes about $1.9 billion annually to public higher education funding, according to the Strategic Review report.
The requested increase also represents about one-fifth to one-third of the potential new revenue projected from the additional Question 1 tax, which current estimates range from about $1.5 billion to $2 billion annually.
“This is in line with other notable transformations like the Student Opportunity Act and what it did in K-12,” said Gabrielli.
The largest share of financial requests will go toward doubling state-funded financial assistance from $200 million to $400 million.
The additional $200 million in money could either be used to award $2,000 to each eligible Pell Grant student and $1,000 to middle-income students — which the board of directors and EY-Parthenon will help 100,000 students in Massachusetts — or it could be used to eliminate Expected family contributions to help.
“We reviewed the research literature that indicates that for every additional $1,000 in financial aid, 3-4% more students come to college and complete it than they would otherwise,” Gabrielli said. “There is every reason to believe that not only will this help existing students, but we will literally bring back tens of thousands of students who either now don’t choose to attend university at all…or who are already in the workforce and could return.”
For the purposes of the recommendations, the board decided not to specify how lawmakers could use the $200 million because both options would require doubling existing appropriations for financial aid.
“For those who like to have their cake and eat it, these two things can be achieved for $335 million,” said Gabrielli.
Board member Bill Walchuck later said the board should aim for “the largest amount of dollars available”.
Adjusted for institutional mix and cost of living, Massachusetts ranks 28th among states for public financial aid, according to the comparative state analysis included in the Strategic Review report.
“Public higher education is essential to the Massachusetts economy. As a matter of fact, the state’s identity is built on higher education. What we offer here are smart people … unlike other states that might have oil or mining,” Walchuck said. The kind of resources other countries provide to support our students and support our institutions.”