Sannicandro: Higher Education Key to State’s Long-Term Economic Prosperity

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(Courtesy of FraminghamPatch)

State Rep. Tom Sannicandro is hosting an event at Framingham State at 7 tonight to discuss the role students and residents can play in advocating for public higher education.

As my colleague Cory Atkins has said: Iowa has corn, Texas has oil, and Massachusetts has brainpower.

Strengthening our public higher education system is one of the most critical things we can do in Massachusetts to ensure immediate as well as long-term economic prosperity.

Tonight, Nov. 16 at 7, I’ll be hosting an event called “A Time to INSPIRE” at Framingham State in the McCarthy College Center. I’ll be joined by Rep. Sean Garballey (D-Arlington), chair of the House Higher Education caucus, as well as PHENOM board member Kim Selwitz and Framingham State student president Hannah Bruce. We’ll be discussing the role students and residents can play in advocating for public higher education. I encourage everyone to come.

Massachusetts is lucky to have one of the finest public higher education systems in the country and one that’s competitive globally.

The University of Massachusetts system was ranked the No. 64 university globally by Times Higher Education, among both public and private colleges, and had the 19th best reputation in the same survey. Among U.S. schools, we ranked right ahead of Vanderbilt, Rice, and Emory.

But Massachusetts is in the midst of a crisis in which we are shifting the cost burden from the state to the individual. While tuition rates have remained steady or even decreased in the past 10 years, fees — non-optional payments for things like “energy” and “technology” — have risen dramatically. Per year fees at community colleges in Massachusetts have risen from $1,539 in 2001-02 to $3,813 in 2010-11. At the state universities, it’s gone from $1,999 to $6,373. And at UMass, it’s risen from $3,069 to $9,447.

This makes it harder for students to earn a college degree. It also robs lower-income students, whose grades qualify them for discounted or free tuition from receiving that college education because the fees are not covered in these tuition-only scholarships.

Meanwhile, student debt continues to climb.

It’s import to remember how much our higher education system benefits the Commonwealth.

Public higher education is the pipeline to the job market. Massachusetts had the country’s highest percentage of adults with a college degree in 2010 (38 percent) and the second-highest per capita personal income ($51,302).

A study released last year showed the UMass system alone pumped $4.8 billion into the Massachusetts economy in FY10, a return on investment of more than $11 for every $1 UMass received. If the University was a private employer, it would be ranked in the Top 15 in Massachusetts, ahead of such major employers as Genzyme, Biogen Idec, and NStar.

All of this underscores the importance of a strong public higher education system in the Commonwealth. One of the most important things we can do is educate our residents on the importance of our public higher education system as well as the financial challenges the system faces. As we move forward, we must keep higher education in mind as part of a complete jobs agenda and in both our short-term and long-term economic interest.

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