FY19 Budget for Massachusetts Public Higher Education

Commissioner Santiago’s Ways & Means Testimony

Carlos E. Santiago, Commissioner of Higher Education, testified before the Joint Committee on Ways & Means on March 19, 2018, in support of Governor Baker’s FY2019 budget request

Headshot of Commissioner Carlos E. Santiago

Thank you for the invitation to testify today. I truly appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about achieving our common goals for Massachusetts’ system of public higher education. Our priority objectives for the state’s public colleges and universities are best characterized by what we call “The Big Three”:

  • We’re working to make college more accessible and affordable for all Massachusetts residents.
  • We’re focused like never before on efforts to close persistent opportunity and achievement gaps that hold back promising students of color at many of our campuses.
  • And we are committed to improving college completion rates so that more students are able to enter the Commonwealth’s high-skilled workforce with degrees and certificates of value.

This is the framework for my remarks today on our FY19 budget request.  My team and I, along with campus leaders, look forward to working with you and your colleagues in the House and Senate to build a thriving, cohesive, and sustainable system of public higher education in the Commonwealth that can deliver on these shared objectives.

I am very much aware of the ongoing fiscal challenges faced by the Ways and Means committees each year as you work to build a balanced budget that supports a myriad of public purposes with limited resources. I see similar challenges faced by our campus leaders as they continue to seek creative and thoughtful ways to innovate and adapt in a rapidly changing landscape.

Despite the challenges, we must work collaboratively to address two disturbing trends that threaten our state’s ability to compete in the global marketplace:

  • The first is declining student enrollment. New data presented to the Board of Higher Education this fall showed that the decline in the overall number of Massachusetts high school graduates will continue well into the 2030’s.  Earlier hopes for an enrollment rebound have thus faded; the only area of growth in the youth population is among Latinos.  We will need to make sure that more Latino students are getting into college, getting through college, and getting out with a credential that will serve them well, whether for success in the labor market or for lifelong learning.
  • The second challenge is the so-called “silver tsunami” which has already begun to hit as baby boomers age out of the workforce. As I’m sure members of this Committee already know, 660,000 boomers are expected to exit the workforce in the next decade.

Both of these trends – an enrollment decline colliding with a retirement boom – are challenges that public higher education is uniquely positioned to address. The Commonwealth’s public higher education campuses educate more than half of the state’s undergraduates – including more than 70% of Latino and African American undergraduates. The vast majority of our students – nine of every ten, to be exact – remain in Massachusetts a year after they graduate. The public campuses are poised to play an increasingly vital role in educating the state’s future workforce. To do so successfully will require us to help more students succeed in less time – and at a cost that won’t leave them so saddled in debt that they are can’t afford to buy a home or pursue a graduate degree.

This work lies at the heart of our public mission, which is to serve the public good by investing in the state’s human capital. It is our job to make sure that every Massachusetts resident who is willing to work hard, regardless of economic status or cultural background, has the means to attain a college degree – which remains the “Gateway to the American Dream.” Investments in public higher education change lives and, in doing so, they change communities. Research shows a strong correlation between higher educational attainments and positive social, economic, and health outcomes. Given that public higher education graduates are far more likely than graduates from private institutions to remain in Massachusetts and contribute to our economy and to our communities, this correlation produces a highly desirable rate of return. The bottom line is that when our students succeed, so does our Commonwealth.

With that economic framework in place, I now would 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 budget proposal.

Student Financial Aid

Without a doubt, the centerpiece of the FY19 higher education budget proposal is the $7.2M increase in financial aid funding included in the House 2 Budget. As the Governor highlighted in his state of the Commonwealth address, these funds would double the amount of need-based aid currently administered by the Department of Higher Education for degree-seeking community college students who file a FAFSA and have remaining unmet financial need for tuition and fees after accounting for all other state and federal grant aid and expected family contribution.

Nearly 4,500 students are expected to qualify for this aid at an average cost of just under $1,600 per student. I am particularly pleased that this proposed aid will be extended for the first time to part-time students. Certainly this investment will go a long way toward addressing the most crucial problem faced by college-going students today – how will I afford my college education? According to a recent study of Massachusetts’ financial aid system, the median unmet need for full-time, full-year students in Massachusetts is just over $11,000. We see this proposal as a critical step in a broader affordability strategy that builds upon existing pathways toward associate and baccalaureate degree attainment.

Complementing this historic investment in student financial aid is an additional $250,000 to help offset the costs currently borne by campuses for grants to students who participate in the Commonwealth Commitment program. This signature initiative, available through our redesigned MassTransfer system, helps shave thousands of dollars off the cost of a college degree by awarding financial incentives to students who begin their studies at a community college and then transfer to complete their program at a state university or UMass campus.

In addition, the House 2 budget includes full funding for the Foster Care Adopted Tuition and Fee Waiver and the Foster Care Grant programs. These two financial aid programs were created many years ago to help families afford the post-secondary education costs for children and youth involved with the Department of Children and Families (DCF). This important investment complements the ongoing work by the DCF to strengthen our child welfare system and create ladders of opportunity for the young people in their care.

Lastly, regarding our access and affordability initiatives, I wish to echo the Secretary’s comments about the Early College program and the $3 million in new funding to support higher education pathways that begin at the high school level. These funds will support high-quality early college partnerships that foster connections between community school districts and our public colleges. Our experience has shown that these partnerships are instrumental in helping thousands of students, especially those who are underrepresented or first-generation students, to create for themselves viable pathways to college completion and career success.

Performance Incentive Fund (PIF)

This line item is one of the most essential tools available to DHE to incentivize the public campuses to meet statewide goals and to scale best and promising practices across the public higher education system. This competitively-awarded grant program allows individual campuses and campus consortia to pursue innovative strategies to implement proven practices that support student success. PIF dollars are expandinguse of open educational resources, online course offerings, competency based education, and accelerated degree completion. PIF dollars have also provided crucial support to campuses to improve transfer advising and expand support services to students. Without this financial support we would not have been able to create a seamless transfer system from two to four-year public institutions.

The PIF fund is also our main mechanism for encouraging campus work to close achievement gaps and increase college completion. Let me share some examples of how we’re using PIF funds, and where we’re seeing results:

  • 100 Males to College. This program to build the college-going identities of low-income, black and Latino male high school students began with a single pilot in Springfield. Based on the success of that program – we saw 95% of the first cohort of students enroll in college – we have awarded PIF grants to expand the program to Brockton, Salem, Framingham and Worcester.
  • Competency-based pathways for early childhood educators. We used the latest round of PIF funding to develop self-paced, online learning modules tailored to the needs of adult learners in the early childhood field.
  • Co-requisite remediation at-scale. This work takes aim at the failed system of remediation that saw too many students languishing in developmental classes, unable to progress into for-credit courses. Many campuses have used PIF grants to redesign their remedial programs, and are now seeing greater student retention and persistence as students enroll concurrently in developmental and credit-bearing coursework.

The PIF program has allowed educators to become innovators. We are now seeing pilot programs with proven results being brought to scale in communities across the state. I urge your continued support for the Performance Incentive Fund program, a highly effective resource which has produced, and will continue to produce, a substantial return on investment.

New Commitments

I would like to highlight a couple of new funding commitments in the FY19 budget proposal:

  • SARA. Earlier this year, the Board of Higher Education voted to approve the Commonwealth’s participation in the multi-state authorization reciprocity agreement, or SARA, which will greatly expand educational opportunities to all students and allow accredited institutions of higher education in Massachusetts to offer programs out-of-state at significantly reduced costs. To support the first year costs of implementation of this agreement, a new appropriation for $180,000 is included in House 2. This is a one-time cost only, as regulations will be promulgated and fees will be assessed to ensure that this program will be self-sustaining in FY2020 and beyond.
  • Campus safety and violence prevention. Additionally, the proposed budget includes $82,000 for the costs of implementing the recommendations of the task force on campus safety and violence prevention. Senate Bill 2203 which was passed by the Senate last fall would require that each public or private degree-granting post-secondary institution of higher education adopt a policy on dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The Department is committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all students, and we appreciate that the members of this committee and your colleagues are addressing this issue in such a thoughtful and comprehensive way.

Formula Funding for State Universities and Community Colleges

The Governor’s budget restores funding for the performance-based funding formula for the 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. It is essential that as we work to refine performance-based metrics to evaluate our success at the campus and the system levels, we recognize the importance of making the connection between resources and outcomes, and commit ourselves to delivering optimal value to our students and to all our stakeholders.

I’d like to close as I opened my remarks today, with an acknowledgement of the difficulty of your task each year. In that spirit, the budget proposal before you seeks to align state funding with our “Big Three” goals of promoting access and affordability, addressing opportunity and achievement gaps, and improving our college completion rates. While each of the three segments of public higher education differs in terms of their purpose and their challenges, I see a system that is poised to build upon successful efforts to cooperate and collaborate and create and sustain public value. Our public institutions can accomplish much more by working together than by competing with each other. The beneficiaries of this ongoing work 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.

Thank you.

This testimony was delivered at the Joint Committee on Ways & Means hearing held March 19, 2018, at the Wiggin Auditorium, Peabody City Hall, 24 Lowell Street, Peabody, as part of a series of public hearings held throughout February and March focused on different components of Governor Baker’s FY2019 budget request.

Next Steps

The Legislature will release their budget proposals, with the House Ways & Means version expected in mid-April and the Senate Ways & Means version expected in mid-May.