Students, faculty and staff and administrators join forces to urge legislators to increase higher ed funding

For the first time in a long time – if ever – students, faculty and staff and administrators convened at the State House to speak in one voice in support of increased funding for the Commonwealth’s public colleges and universities.

State funding for public higher education has declined by about $700 million – or 42 percent – since 2001, while enrollment figures continue to rise. Participants at the March 8 advocacy day urged legislators to support a 5 percent increase in the operating budgets for all 29 public higher education campuses, and include the collective bargaining reserves as proposed by the governor in House 2. They also urged legislators to increase the scholarship account, which provides financial aid to students, by 5 percent.

"We are here to welcome you to the people’s house,” said state Rep. Tom Sannicandro, earning huge applause from the overflow crowd packed into Gardner Auditorium at a kick-off event for the Massachusetts Public Higher Education Advocacy Day. “This is your house. We are your state representatives and we work for you. We want you to get out there today and tell your stories.” 

Sannicandro addressed the audience alongside Sen. Richard Moore. Sannicandro and Moore are the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Higher Education Committee. Education Secretary Paul Reville, Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland, Board of Higher Education Chairman Charles Desmond, MTA President Paul Toner and several students also spoke at the opening event for the advocacy day.

UMass Amherst student Melanie Mulvey brought down the house when she talked about her own background and the opportunities she has ahead of her – due largely to her college education.

“I am a kid from Dorchester born to a 21-year-old single mother on welfare and I’m two months away from graduating,” Mulvey said. “I’ve been able to achieve things that my mother could only dream of for herself. Now I’m poised to contribute to my community and my state in a meaningful way. Public education works.”

Remarks made by Mulvey and Toner and many others were captured in a stream of tweets, some with photos, that can be found on Twitter by using the hashtag, #advocate4phe. A video of the event at Gardner Auditorium can be viewed on the MTA’s YouTube site at http://youtu.be/Hman8xAdObw, and pictures are posted on the MTA’s Flickr page at http://flic.kr/s/aHsjywcb7j.

Before the groups of students, MTA higher ed members and administrators headed out to meet with their own representatives and senators, MTA President Paul Toner told the crowd that “it’s time to start talking about revenues.”

He also took the opportunity to thank the students for their efforts.

“Thank you for your support,” said Toner, who earned a Master’s degree at UMass Boston. “We are here for each other today. It’s great to see faculty and students speaking in one voice in support of our public higher education institutions.”

For more information on higher education funding, visit the MTA’s activist tool kit.If you missed the Massachusetts Higher Education Advocacy Day, you can email your legislator via the MTA’s legislative messaging system.