March 1, 2017
Massachusetts State House
Students from the state's community colleges, state universities and University of Massachusetts campuses attended Advocacy Day, organized by Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM), to share their stories with legislators and support funding for public higher education.
On March 1, 2017, students from the community colleges, state universities and UMass campuses came to the State House for “Advocacy Day” hosted by the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM). This event brought together over 600 hundred students, faculty, politicians and community leaders to educate legislators about the need to support increased public higher education funding.
As a current Worcester State University student, I believe that this event took place at a crucial time where the public higher education budget isn’t at the level it needs to be at to continue delivering an affordable and high-quality education.
At the Great Hall of Flags, students assembled by their campuses and heard opening remarks from Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association; students; and other key leaders fighting for public higher education funding. Students who lobbied at the event were energetic, passionate, and committed to letting their legislators know their concerns about the current climate in public higher education. Faculty members and staff members worked jointly to ensure students made it to the event and had the information to advocate at a proficient level.
Zac Bears, executive director of PHENOM, led the organizing efforts for the day. “Legislators got the message that more cuts in state funding to public higher education are not an option. Students and working families can’t afford even higher costs for public colleges,” he said.
During the event, students met with their legislators to lobby for quality, debt-free education, fair contracts and benefits for their faculty, and protections for immigrant students.
“This idea that you can’t get a good education at a community college is completely mistaken,” said Chloe Sorto, a non-traditional student at Holyoke Community College. “The education that I’ve gotten here and what they have done for me…it’s completely changed me forever.”
While Chloe had a life-changing experience at HCC, faculty members said they are frustrated with what they consider to be an attack on the higher education budget that would adversely affect students like her.
Joseph Ramsey, a PHENOM organizer and English professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston said, “We have more millionaires and billionaires than ever, and yet we are told there is not enough money for something as basic as public higher education.”
For me, Advocacy Day was my chance to tell my legislators that I represent the future and that they must invest in those of us who call Massachusetts home.
Zac, Chloe, Joseph and I share the same concern that public higher education is turning into a private rather than public entity and because of that, we fear that the future of the system is in danger. We believe that higher education must be seen as a public good, rather than a private benefit.
For those who are interested in staying involved, PHENOM will hold an action event at UMass Amherst on March 29. Students will deliver testimony to the Joint Committee on Ways & Means, describing the impact of high debt.
Public higher education has the opportunity to change. I hope that the legislature will fully fund a system that is an economic investment in the future of this Commonwealth.