State University Remarks

By Javier Cevallos, President, Framingham State University

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 Board of Higher Education Meeting

Good morning Chairman Gabrieli, Commissioner Santiago, Secretary Peyser, and members of the Board of Higher Education. 
On behalf of the Council of Presidents I begin this morning in joining with Commissioner Santiago and the Board in offering my sincere thanks and well wishes to President Patricia Maguire Meservey, on her 11 years of dedicated service to Salem State University, her students, the North Shore community, the state university system and all of public higher education.  President Meservey’s long list of achievements at Salem State include a remarkable physical transformation of the Salem State campus, record fundraising levels, and leading the charge for university status in 2010. 

Also, I offer my congratulations to our colleague, Dr. Robert Johnson, BHE member and President of Becker College in Worcester, on being selected Chancellor of UMass Dartmouth.  His visionary leadership and his innovative approach to education have proven transformative at Becker.  We wish him well as he begins his tenure at UMass Dartmouth and welcome him to our public higher education family.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on the Massachusetts State University System.  I am happy to share with you a snapshot of the work that my colleagues and I are doing on the nine state university campuses to fulfill our mission, reach critical benchmarks set by the state, and answer the call by lawmakers to close skill and degree gaps in our workforce, while keeping high-quality, rigorous, and affordable pathways to meaningful four-year and advanced degree programs. 

The state universities have successfully implemented new and innovative programs to increase overall graduation rates, close achievement gaps, and respond to the needs of our regional economies.  Our nine campuses offer a wide array of programs, from institutions focused on engineering and the arts, to comprehensive universities offering degree programs in the physical and life sciences, mathematics, business, education, information technology, the social sciences, humanities and many other educational pathways, leading to good careers and opportunity for economic mobility.   

The state universities take seriously our mission to offer access to high-quality four-year degrees for students across the commonwealth, especially for those coming to us from underserved communities and gateway cities. We play a vital and irreplaceable role in creating these educational pathways for first generation college students, working families, and those who face socioeconomic barriers to advancement. 

Our campuses prepare a well-rounded, career-ready graduate by offering a strong grounding in the liberal arts, a demanding and rigorous academic curriculum, taught by committed and dedicated faculty.  The state universities are focused on helping students succeed by offering high-quality and affordable educational pathways, leading to good careers and upward economic mobility. 
Our students depend on it; the strength of our economy requires it; and our mission demands it.

The state universities have answered the state’s call to increase capacity on our campuses, increase the number of quality and affordable degree programs to meet workforce demands, increase the number of Bachelor and Master’s degrees conferred, and close achievement gaps.  I am pleased to report that full-time undergraduate student enrollment is up by 16 percent and our degree production has skyrocketed by 41 percent.  This growth in degree production is unmatched amongst our regional and national peers. 

We have worked hard to build upon longstanding partnerships with local and regional businesses, allowing us to successfully provide our students opportunities for life experience through internships, externships, community service programs, and work study.   Our focus on post-graduation readiness has opened new and exciting careers options with local businesses, school districts, state agencies, and other regional employment opportunities.  Over 90 percent of our students are employed or continuing their education one year after graduation.

However, today, both the Commonwealth and our public higher education system is at a proverbial crossroads.  With the looming skills gap for Massachusetts businesses, our Commonwealth faces the biggest threat to our economic viability in generations; and the public higher education system is facing the worst state funding crisis in 20 years.  Our state universities are the backbone to the Commonwealth’s professional workforce with nearly 95% of our students coming from Massachusetts communities and over 85% of our graduates choosing to live, work and raise their families here.   We have stayed true to our mission by drawing most of our students from gateways cities or economically challenged communities. 

But offering our residents affordable degree options is becoming increasingly more difficult, putting at risk this critical pipeline to our state’s workforce and threating our Commonwealth’s economic wellbeing.  The collapse of state support for public higher education intuitions is resulting in cost shifting from the state to the student and fewer opportunities for poorer students to obtain a degree. 

A study recently published in the New Your Times shows that public colleges offer the best, and in most cases, the only chance for people living in impoverished communities a chance at upward economic mobility.  Massachusetts can ill afford to close-off opportunities for the majority of students we serve as it will have a detrimental effect on the economic health of our state.  The Mass Budget and Policy Center commissioned a study that illustrates the historic defunding of public higher education and the direct correlation between education, wages, and the strength of the state economy. 

These two reports clearly show the link between the education level of a state’s workforce and the economic health of the state. 
This board has, year after year, voted to recommend increases in our public higher education budgets, increases in financial aid, funds for deferred maintenance of state owned buildings, performance incentive funds, and additional grants to help our campuses fulfill our state directed missions. 

Unfortunately, over the past few years, there have been only modest state increases that do not even cover cost associated with collective bargaining increases.  Bargaining parameters for unit member contracts are set, negotiated and authorized by the administration but securing funding for the incremental salary increases is always a battle.  
Over the last three budget cycles, the unfunded liability of the CBA and amortization of those funds in campus line items, is $32.6m.  That does not include an additional $10m in fringe benefit costs for all non-state supported employee and unit members.  However, as you know, regardless of state appropriation or additional state funding for the cost of the contracts, our campuses are required to pay the salary increases. 

To balance our campus budgets, we are forced to use a combination of operating cuts, program cuts, one time revenues, campus reserves, foundation funds, and student fees to meet our obligations. No matter how much our campuses maximize efficiencies, reduce costs or enter into collaborative agreements with our public and private partners, we will never be able to cover a $32 million shortfall without impacting student fees.  We are often criticized for raising student fees, but the unfunded portion of our collective bargaining contracts, coupled with other unfunded liabilities, account for around eighty percent or more of our student fee increases.

Your state universities remain committed to increasing the number of Bachelor, Master’s and other advanced degrees in order to meet the demands of our Massachusetts workforce but we need your help. 

As leaders of our public higher education intuitions, we call on you to join with us in expressing concern with the impact that the Governor’s budget recommendations will have on our campuses and asking the legislature to include funding for our collective bargaining obligations in the FY18 state budget. 

If the state simply funds the incremental costs obligated to us by our labor contracts, we will be able to do our part with minimal costs to our students.  It’s in the best interest of our Commonwealth to keep us accessible to all Massachusetts students, especially those coming from our gateway cities and socioeconomically challenged communities. 

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to work with you to advance our state universities.  I am leaving behind a document that outlines the progress we have made over the course of the last decade.  We hope you will join in reversing the trend of systematically shifting the cost of public higher education to our students.