Senator Lewis, Representative Fiola, and members of the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means Committees, thank you for the invitation to testify on the FY20 budget. I also want to thank President Douglas and the students, staff, and faculty at Bristol Community College for their hospitality here today. Bristol Community College exemplifies what we at the Department of Higher Education are committed to achieving across all three segments in the public higher education system in Massachusetts – namely, to expand access and opportunity for all students, close achievement gaps, improve college completion rates, and increase the affordability and value of post-secondary education so that more students are able to enter the Commonwealth’s high-skilled workforce and participate fully in our economy and our society. Along with our campus leaders, we 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 goals.
This past December, the Board of Higher Education took an ambitious step toward prioritizing these commitments by naming “equity” as the top statewide policy imperative for public higher education. The data show that while Massachusetts remains a national leader in terms of overall higher education attainment, there are significant gaps between white students and students of color. According to the U.S. Census, only 22% of adult Latino males in Massachusetts hold a college degree, placing them 43 percentage points behind white females on this metric. With declining enrollments projected to continue through the next decade, and historic turnover in the workforce as the baby boomer generation begins to age out, it is essential that we focus on providing greater opportunities for first-generation and traditionally underserved students who increasingly represent a greater percentage of our student population.
Our success in closing this disproportionate gap in student success will also help us address the growing challenge of meeting the needs of an ever-changing economy. The data show that nine out of every ten public college students remain in Massachusetts a year after they graduate. This means that our institutions are poised to play an increasingly vital role in educating the state’s future workforce. 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. Furthermore, the high correlation between higher educational attainments and positive social, economic, and health outcomes, translates into better lives for them, and a stronger Commonwealth for us all. With this framework in place, I will turn to the proposed investments in public higher education for the coming fiscal year as reflected in the Governor’s House 1 budget proposal.
As Secretary Peyser highlighted in his remarks, the Governor’s budget features a multi-year $100 million trust fund aimed at addressing college affordability and supporting student success. The proposed Affordability and Success Trust Fund would build upon established programs that have shown promise in reducing costs and helping students navigate from high school to college graduation through supported pathways. Included among these programs are the Commonwealth Commitment and Early College programs. The Commonwealth Commitment combines the benefits of MassTransfer, completion incentives, and financial aid that enable students to graduate on time and at much lower costs. Additional funding for Early College will continue to strengthen the partnerships between community school districts and post-secondary institutions and cover the incremental costs of instruction as well as costs associated with student advising and other supports. 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.
The Governor’s budget also includes full funding for the second year of the $7.2M MassGrant Plus program which provides increased financial support 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. This investment will continue to address one of the most crucial problems faced by college-going students today – how will I afford my college education? We see this program as an essential component of a broader affordability strategy that helps students with demonstrated financial need earn their associate or baccalaureate degrees.
In addition, the House 1 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 who have been in the care of the Department of Children and Families (DCF). This important financial commitment supports the ongoing work by the DCF to strengthen our child welfare system and creates ladders of opportunity for the young people in their care.
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 reduce costs and support student success. For example, PIF dollars are expandingthe use of open educational resources, online course offerings, competency-based education, and prior learning assessments. PIF dollars have also provided vital support to campuses to improve transfer advising and expand support services to students. Without these resources 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 opportunity and achievement gaps and increase and accelerate college completion.
Let me share a few examples of how we’re using PIF funds, and where we’re seeing results:
100 Males to College – this cohort model is designed to increase college access, enrollment, retention, and success for low-income students and students of color, particularly young men, to positively impact their prospects for success in college and career. What began with a single pilot in Springfield, which saw a 95% success rate in its first cohort, has been expanded to include 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. We have used PIF dollars to expand this work, which began at Northern Essex Community College and North Shore Community College in 2017 to include eight of our community colleges.
Developmental Education – 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.
Prior Learning – PIF also supports the work of the Prior Learning Assessment consortium, which focuses on adult learners and the 600,000 individuals in the Commonwealth who have some post-secondary experience but no credential. Credits for prior learning and subject mastery enable adult learners to earn credentials faster and at lower costs.
The Performance Incentive Fund has enabled educators to become innovators. We are now seeing pilot programs with proven results being brought to scale in communities across the state, and we are funding more projects than ever before that encourage cross-campus collaboration across the system. I urge your continued support for PIF, a highly effective resource that will continue to help us innovate and adapt to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Lastly, the Governor’s budget includes additional resources for the incremental costs of collective bargaining, as well as 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 that we commit ourselves to delivering optimal value to our students and to all our stakeholders. Later this month we will be presenting to members of the campus boards of trustees our work on a new performance measurement system that will reflect indicators of success in the areas of college access and affordability; student success and completion; workforce alignment and outcomes; and fiscal stewardship. We look forward to sharing this information with you and with all our system stakeholders as this important accountability work moves forward.
In closing my remarks, I wish to thank you and your colleagues for continuing to support public higher education. While each of the three segments of our system differs in terms of their purpose and their challenges, I see greater opportunities to build upon successful efforts to cooperate and collaborate to create and sustain 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 I appreciate the opportunity to present this testimony.
This testimony was delivered at the Joint Committee on Ways & Means hearing held March 18, 2019 as part of a series of public hearings held throughout February and March focused on different components of Governor Baker’s FY2020 budget request.
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.