February 29, 2016 Joint Ways & Means FY16 Budget Hearing
Thank you for the invitation to testify today. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about our goals for improving access, affordability and college completion at the Commonwealth’s 15 community colleges and nine state universities.
This marks the first time that I, as Commissioner, am presenting the Board of Higher Education’s priorities for the new fiscal year. I welcome your questions and I also want to signal my deep gratitude for the support we have received from the Massachusetts legislature, through good years and lean years.
I think we can all agree on two things: first, that this year seems destined to fall into the “lean” category, and second, that even at a time of difficult budget decision-making, we must still find ways to address our state’s current and future shortages of college graduates. Behind recent headlines on the impending tsunami of boomer retirements lies an important reality for our state, one that public higher education is uniquely positioned to address. Our campuses educate more than half of the state’s undergraduates. The vast majority of our students – nine of every ten, to be exact – remain in Massachusetts a year after they graduate. This means that the public campuses are continuing to play an essential role in educating the state’s future workforce. Our institutions are fully focused on the need to produce greater numbers of college graduates with the skills needed to replace hundreds of thousands of retirees in the coming years. To do so will require us to help more students reach graduation day in less time. The good news is that the investments you have made in our system in recent years have positioned us to do just that.
This work lies at the heart of our public mission, which is to meet the needs of the state while also serving the individual students for whom a college degree remain the “Gateway to the American Dream.” We need to provide post-secondary access and opportunity to every Massachusetts resident who is willing to work hard, regardless of their economic status or cultural background. Investments in public higher education change lives and in doing so, they change communities. But in light of the changing demographics of the state, it is also clear that building on recent investments in higher education will be necessary if Massachusetts is to maintain its competitive advantage as the state with the greatest number of adult degree-holders. Unlike other types of public investments, the benefits derived from having a highly educated workforce extend to all citizens, whether they are direct users of our system or not, because the supply of brainpower strengthens our economy.
With that economic framework in place, I’d now like to turn to the Board of Higher Education’s top priorities for the coming fiscal year as reflected in the Governor’s House 2 spending plan.
This top-priority line item has proven to be a vital tool for the DHE to incentivize the public campuses to meet system-wide goals. Each competitively-awarded grant allows individual campuses and campus consortia to pursue innovative strategies to improve college access and completion rates, and to maximize efficiencies through group purchasing and other savings programs. Here are just a few examples of how Vision Project Performance Incentive Fund grants are producing real change for students:
These are three very different examples of how Performance Incentive Fund dollars are being leveraged to produce meaningful change on our campuses. As mentioned by the Secretary, this fund also supports our work to streamline MassTransfer pathways so that more students can move on from our community colleges to earn four-year degrees without a loss of valuable course credit. I urge you to continue your support for the fund, which has produced substantial return on investment.
Our public higher education system now benefits from having a performance-based funding formula for all 24 community colleges and state universities. Linking additional state funding to the strategic goals of the commonwealth – including student success and workforce alignment – is critical to moving our system forward on a unified front. The Governor’s budget includes funding in both of the performance-based funding line-items to maintain the momentum of the last few fiscal years.
Dual enrollment is a strategy that works. It gives high school students an early taste of the college experience by allowing them to take classes on campus for free or at a reduced cost. They get an early taste of the college experience, learning how to meet the expectations of college faculty, manage their time, and in the process, often discovering what they’d like to major in. In Massachusetts, we know that high school students who complete a dual enrollment course are more likely to matriculate to college than non-dual enrolled students – including those students who failed to meet the competency determination on MCAS.
Despite the clear impact, the Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Program (CDEP) is unable to grow due to funding constraints. In FY16, we were only able to serve 3,000 students. We ask that you support the Governor’s request for an additional $1 million in dual enrollment funding in FY17 to allow several thousand more students to experience the benefits – and the savings – of dual enrollment course at college campuses in their communities. This is one of the best strategies we can use to help high school students get ready to succeed in college and graduate in timely manner without the need for expensive remedial courses.
I’d like to close as I opened my remarks today, with an acknowledgement of the exceedingly tight budget constraints facing this Committee. In asking for your continued support of public higher education in the Commonwealth, I have focused on just a very few priority areas and choosing programmatic investments that we know have a proven track record. I am also pleased to report that we are working across all three segments of our system on a plan that would offer a discount on the cost of attendance at our public institutions. If we succeed, this plan would incentivize community college students to attend full-time, and then transfer to a state university or UMass campus to finish their degrees in four years. I look forward to briefing members of the Committee on the plan in the near future.
While each of the three segments of public higher education have different missions, it is to the Commonwealth’s advantage that they cooperate and act in concert. Whether it is in the area of credit transfer, affordability, remediation reduction, workforce development or early college design, our public institutions can accomplish much more by working together than by competing with each other. The beneficiaries of this approach, which also recognizes the uniqueness of each institution, will be the students, their communities, and by extension, the Commonwealth and its future.
I welcome any questions that you may have, and appreciate the opportunity to present this testimony.