Lawmakers meet students on Public Higher Education Day

By Mounira Al Hmoud

BOSTON – A boisterous crowd of nearly a thousand students and faculty members gathered at the State House Thursday to lobby lawmakers for a better education at a lower cost.

The students packed Gardner Auditorium with a standing room only crowd, wearing their school colors and shouting their university names as speakers exhorted them to lobby in support of Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to raise the university system’s budget by 5 percent.

Richard Freeland, the state’s commissioner for higher education, praised the crowd saying education power is fueled by the unity of students, faculty and their legislators.

“This is a tough time for legislators and it is not easy for them to find money,” he said. “We need low-cost affordable, high-quality, first class public higher education in Massachusetts.”

Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville told students from public higher education system the state needs their voice and their thinking.

“Brain power is needed not only to create jobs but also to help us solve the civic challenges of our time,” he said, “the problem of financing public higher education and improving it.”

Melanie Mulvey, a UMass-Amherst student, said going to college is not guaranteed for working class communities.

“I have been able to achieve things that my mother could only dream of,” she said. “Public education works.”

Rep. Thomas Sannicandro, D-Ashland, co-chair of Higher Education Committee, who urged students to “advocate for yourself,” later said MetroWest is leading the path in terms of education and unemployment rate

“It is important to invest in public higher education because this is our resource, companies come here for our educated workforce,” said Sannicandro. “MetroWest unemployment rate is lower than the state’s, which is lower than

the nation’s. Fifty percent of people in MetroWest have a degree, twice the state percentage.”

MetroWest area students who attended the rally offered their own stories of difficulties in balance education with finances. Magaly Rodriguez, a student at Framingham MassBay Community College, said she must balance work and college to pay for tuition.

“I work and study three classes per semester because that is the most I can afford,” she said. “Things get expensive very quick, but all of these horror stories that I get of my cousins trying to pay off their debt and their bad credits from these high fees student debt prevented me from going debt round.”

According to the Umass-Amherst website, the 2011-2012 school year can cost students as much as $22,124 for tuition, fees, and room board.

Gabrielle Cook, a freshman UMass-Amherst with a scholarship, said this day means a lot for all students in the commonwealth.

“Debt is such a big thing right now, students can’t pay it coming out of college,” she said. “We are really pushing for the 5 percent increase in the higher education budget.”

Kyle Jessey, a UMass-Amherst freshman representing his school’s student Senate, said he came to advocate for students who are working two jobs while still in debt.

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