BOSTON — The erosion of government support for higher education over the past 20 years has made earning a four-year degree less and less accessible to low-income students in Massachusetts, especially students of color. , as increases in tuition and fees have necessitated more borrowing, a new report shows.
The study, produced by the Hildreth Institute and released on Monday, found that while state funding for public higher education fell by 20% per full-time student between 2001 and 2020, tuition and fees in four-year institutions have increased by an average of 59%.
Financial aid has also not kept pace with rising costs passed on to families, dropping 35% for full-time students from $595 to $386 at a time when median household incomes have risen by 13%, according to the report.
“After two decades of divestment, we are too far along to expect a few reforms to chart a new course for our public institutions and our students. Years of inaction will force the state to finally decide what role the Commonwealth, which prides itself as the cradle of public education, should play in post-secondary public education,” wrote Bahar Akman Imboden, Chief Executive of the Hildreth Institute and author. of the report.
The state has earmarked nearly $1.2 billion for its higher education campuses this year, including $577.5 million for the University of Massachusetts, out of a $48 billion budget. After passing pre-pandemic legislation reforming how the state funds K-12 education, lawmakers are now grappling with how to make education more affordable at the beginning and later stages of a child’s educational career. ‘a student.
Senate Speaker Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano both discussed finding ways to use federal dollars and other resources to reduce the cost of early education and care, while Representatives Natalie Higgins and Senator Jamie Eldridge filed legislation to make the university debt-free. a reality for tens of thousands of students.
Mariano and House Ways and Means President Aaron Michlewitz were due to announce new investments in the early childhood education workforce on Monday, which will be part of the House’s fiscal year 2023 budget to be released Wednesday. .
Imboden said state policymakers should seriously consider the framework proposed by Higgins and Eldridge in their bills (H 1339. S 829) to ensure debt-free higher education for all students, and felt that it could cost between $771.7 million and $1.015 billion, depending on who qualifies for enhanced aid.
According to the report, public universities now depend on tuition and fees for 40% of their income, which is a far different paradigm from the 1980s, when student tuition accounted for less than a quarter of university income. ‘an institution.
In the 1980s, financial aid through the MassGrant program—the state’s main form of need-based financial aid—covered 80% of a student’s tuition and fees. It now covers 10% of a full-time student’s expenses, researchers wrote.
“With this change and the decline in student financial aid, the financial burden on public higher education students and their families is at an all-time high,” Imboden wrote.
This change puts more hardship on students from low-to-moderate income backgrounds, forcing them to work more hours outside of school and taking out more student loans, and putting them at greater risk of not complete their studies.
Sixty-three percent of public university students now take out loans to graduate, compared to 53% of their private college peers, according to the report, and public university students now graduate with more debt (24,112 $) on average than their private students. school peers ($23,940).
The COVID-19 pandemic has only made the situation worse, according to the Hildreth Institute, which found that enrollment in public higher education fell 6.9% in 2020 and 4.2 % additional in 2021, with community colleges seeing the steepest declines and Blacks and Latinos first. year students plunging 33% between 2019 and 2020.
“Until we address the fact that chronic disinvestment has put a price on those who have the most to gain from higher education, we will continue to see negative enrollment trends that further deprive communities most in need of investment,” the report said.
Communities of color have a higher student loan default rate than white communities: 12% to 10%.
The Hildreth Institute concludes that the state government should expand eligibility for the MASSGrant program, as well as the types of educational expenses students can invest in, and increase funding to cover the unmet needs of students attending public institutions. so they can graduate with little or no student debt.