Tuesday, January 24, 2017 Board of Higher Education Meeting
Good morning Chairman Gabrieli, Secretary Peyser, Commissioner Santiago and members of the Board of Higher Education, on behalf of the Council of Presidents, thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on the Massachusetts State University System.
As we begin this New Year, we welcome a new legislature to the 190th session of the General Court. At the last BHE meeting, I shared with the board that the State Universities will be pursuing an aggressive legislative agenda that we feel will benefit our students, our campuses and our commonwealth. I am happy to inform you that Massachusetts State Representatives and State Senators, both Republican and Democrat, have filed a number of bills at our request. Our full legislative agenda is attached to my written testimony, but I would like to take a few minutes now and highlighting five bills that we believe are critical to the state universities and the 70,000 students we serve.
On behalf of my colleagues, I ask for your support of our legislative agenda and we encourage you to join us in our advocacy efforts during this legislative session.
The first bill I would like to highlight is An Act to Fund Public Higher Education Labor Contracts, filed by Representative Jim O’Day and Senator Tom McGee. This bill, our number one priority, seeks to secure funding of our collective bargaining agreements. Under provisions included in the bill, the Governor would be required to recognize all incremental salary increases for our bargaining unit members in his annual state spending plan submitted to the legislature. Our bargaining unit contracts are negotiated by the administration but securing funding for the incremental salary increases included in the contract is always a battle. The state universities are at the end of a three year contract and we have received only one year of additional funding for the negotiated salary increases. However, regardless of state appropriation or additional state funding, our campuses are required to pay the salary increases. Without state funding to cover the costs of the contracts, our campuses are forced to use a combination of operating budget cuts, one time revenues, campus reserves, foundation funds, and student fees to meet our obligations. Our campuses are often criticized for raising student fees but the unfunded portion of our collective bargaining contracts, as well as other unfunded liabilities such as costs associated with fringe benefits, account for eighty percent or more of our student fee increases.
Last week, the New York Times published a study showing that a four year college degree provides people the best chance for upward economic mobility, especially those coming from socioeconomically challenged communities. Continuing to underfund our public higher education institutions puts at risk our core mission of providing pathways for a four year degree to all Massachusetts students. Help us keep our campuses affordable by supporting this very important bill.
We ask you to consider joining us in our advocacy of this bill as an important part of supporting our mission by keeping our public colleges and universities accessible and affordable to all students in Massachusetts.
The second bill I would like to call attention to was field in response to certain campaign promises made by then candidate Donald Trump committing to rescind the Obama Administration’s executive actions on undocumented childhood arrivals. The bill, An Act to Ensure Tuition Equity to Massachusetts Residents, filed by Representative Mike Moran and Senator Harriet Chandler, would amend the General Laws to allow public higher education institutions to continue to extend the in-state tuition rate to students currently qualifying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.
Passage of this bill will allow qualifying DACA students in Massachusetts to continue to receive the in-state tuition rate regardless of changes made to DACA by President Trump. If the DACA executive order is rescinded by Mr. Trump, our campuses would be prohibited under the General Laws to continue to extend the in-state rate to qualifying DACA students. Simply put, the bill would allow us to continue what we have today in that a DACA student would receive the in-state tuition benefit.
To give some national perceptive on this issue, sixteen other states have already authorized in-state tuition to qualifying students and many other state legislatures across the nation are looking at similar legislative or executive actions to extend the in-state tuition rate to these students. We would ask that you join us in advocating for this bill.
On a number of occasions over the past year, the state universities shared with you, members of the administration, and legislative leaders our interest in developing clinical doctorate degree programs on our campuses in order to meet changing licensing requirements in certain professions. Over the past decade many professions began requiring a clinical or professional doctorate degree, rather than Master's Degrees, for both accreditation and employment. These professions, and their licensing boards, are demanding higher levels of education for entry level positions; and as a result, many employers are struggling to find qualified employees to fill those jobs.
The General Laws prohibit the state universities from offering doctorate level programs, except if “in collaboration” with UMass and authorized by the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees. The reason Massachusetts has this restriction on doctorate degree programs at state university campuses is to ensure the missions of the three public higher education segments are preserved and protected. The University of Massachusetts is the segment of our public higher education that is designated to offer PhD level degree programs. We respect and agree with the Carnegie Classification distinction between the University of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts state universities. However, as you may already know, a clinical doctorate degree is fundamentally different from a Doctor of Philosophy/PhD. The PhD is a research based degree and a clinical doctorate is a degree certifying advanced clinical proficiency in a profession.
This bill, An Act to Authorize the State Universities to Offer Clinical and Professional Doctorate Programs, filed by Representative Jennifer Benson and Senator deMacedo, will allow the state universities an opportunity to develop and offer clinical doctorate degrees, affording us the same opportunities as our regional and national peers and competitors. We believe strongly that offering these advanced degree programs fits with the mission of our state universities and does not encroach upon the mission or Carnegie designation of UMass.
Furthermore, many of the programs are not widely offered (or not offered at all) at any UMass campus and passage of this bill will give our state universities the tools to meet the growing call of employers for qualified employees in professions across the Commonwealth.
One additional point that I would make about this bill and our efforts to offer clinical doctorate degree programs. Post graduate degree programs are not subsidized by the state so offering these programs to interested students comes with no direct cost to taxpayer; and given that many of our campuses already offer post-graduate degrees in these fields, the infrastructure for the clinical doctorate degree is already in place.
Public college and university campuses are constantly inundated with public records requests for the personal information of our students. These requests seek information such as student names, home and school addresses, date of birth, telephone and cellphone numbers, email addresses, area of study, graduation date, parent's names and their addresses, and so on... Our public college campuses are compelled to provide much (if not all) of this information to the requester as it is designated as a "public record" for the purposes of complying with the state's public records laws. The bill, An Act to Protect Student Data, filed by Representative Mike Moran and Senator Michael Moore, would amend chapter 66 of the general laws by adding a new section. The new section would allow our public higher education institutions to safeguard our student’s information from predatory data collection companies or groups seeking to profit off our student’s personal information.
The bill would allow public higher education intuitions to designate this student data as an "education record" under the federal Family Education and Privacy Act (FERPA), including our “campus directory.” A “campus directory” is a listing with student information provided to the campus community in an effort to promote and enhance the college experience of our students. It allows students to engage and participate in college life; contact one another; gives faculty and students the ability to easily connect; and allows the institution to connect directly with students for the purposes of emergency alerts, informational announcements, or other instances when contacting students is a necessity. Although this information is available to our campus community, we don’t believe that it should be made available to anyone seeking student data and it should not be designated a public record under the Massachusetts public records law.
The final bill I would like to bring to your attention, An Act Relative to Commonwealth Building Projects, filed by Representative Kevin Honan and Senator Moore, relates to construction oversight and management of campus building projects. Under the current law, the Department of Capital Assets, Maintenance, and Management (DCAMM), manages state building projects over $250,000. There is a provision in the law that will allow DCAMM to “opt-out” of management for projects under $2m. We are seeking to raise the minimum threshold for DCAMM review of projects from $250k to $1M and raises the DCAMM "opt out" threshold provision on construction projects from $2m to $10m. We believe that raising the threshold for DCAMM projects will save campuses and the Commonwealth money during construction.
I would like to thank the members of the House and Senate who sponsored our bills and all the legislative cosponsors have joined with us to strengthen public higher education here in the Commonwealth. As these bills move through the legislative process with public hearings for each of these bills, we would ask that you consider joining us to promote public higher education before the legislature.
In closing, I reiterate our commitment to finding new and innovative ways of providing access for Massachusetts students seeking a high quality and affordable college experience. My colleagues and I remain concerned that historic disinvestment of public higher education risks our ability to serve communities of need and provide access to quality academic programs.
We believe that this chronic underfunding not only risks our mission but also threatens the strength of our economy by limiting affordable options for a degree to only those who can afford to pay. The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center released an eye opening report on the relationship to state education spending and the economy. The study offers a historical state by state analysis of education level and economic strength.
It shows a direct correlation between education levels, employment opportunities, higher wages, and a stronger state economy. We believe that this report and the New York Times study illustrate that the only real way for us to stay competitive in a knowledge based economy and offer economic mobility to folks living in socioeconomically challenged communities, is by adequately funding our public higher education institutions.
My colleagues and I will continue to do all we can to provide Massachusetts students access to a well-rounded, quality education; we will continue to make our voices heard and advocate for stronger state support for our students and our campuses; we are proud of the work we have done and look forward to answering the call for an educated citizenry in order to fuel our knowledge based economy.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity and I ask that you to join us in our efforts.