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Senator Moore speaks up for TRIO programs

Two Federal TRIO programs were the focus of the day at the Massachusetts State House on May 11, 2015.  The day celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound programs.  Mass. Sen. Michael Moore and Maureen Binienda, principal of South High Community School, spoke.  Four South High ETS students met with legislators or their aides to attest to the power of TRIO programs.  Current and former TRIO students from around the State attended.

Senator Moore's remarks:

Good morning everyone, and thank you all for coming.

As some of you may know, today’s event comes during a particularly busy time for the legislature. Bill hearings have now begun in earnest, and the state budget continues on its long road to the governor’s desk.

As senate chair of the joint committee on higher education, I am looking forward to a busy and productive session. At the start of a new session, we are presented with numerous bills that vary widely in their scope and direction. Some of the bills being considered in other committees are targeted to address an individual issue that once remedied, will quickly put aside. The importance of higher education in the commonwealth means that our work is rarely so isolated. Our higher education system serves as the backbone of our economy, providing a skilled and educated workforce that entices businesses and industries from around the world to make Massachusetts their home. Our colleges and universities prepare students to be leaders of these businesses and leaders in our communities. There are few better ways to invest in the future of Massachusetts than a strong commitment to our system of higher education.

In the midst of a budget process, the word commitment is often synonymous with funding. However, the needs of our higher Ed system extend far beyond greater appropriations. The system must adaptable to changing economy, responsive to the needs of our students, and committed to the betterment of the commonwealth and our communities.

There is no simple solution to achieve these goals. Instead we must continue to enact policies that promote expanded opportunities for all of the students in the commonwealth. There is still much work to be done, but I am proud of what the committee and the legislature have done in recent years.

When seeking to expand the impact of our higher education system, we must ensure our programs are tailored to the specific needs of our communities. In 2010, in conjunction with department of higher education and under the direction of Commissioner Freeland, the legislature established a program that would help identify and target theses needs. Since then, the vision project has provided policy-makers with the objectives and information necessary to craft a comprehensive strategy got our higher Ed system.

The vision project helped focus our efforts and clarify our priorities - boosting college completion rates, closing achievement gaps, and expanding success to underserved populations. These goals will not only enhance experiences on campus, but also in the communities across the commonwealth that will benefit from their education.

This process also aligned Massachusetts with federal priorities and many of the federal programs that are available to our students. I’d like to commend today’s host, the Massachusetts educational opportunities Association, for the tremendous work they do in connecting Massachusetts students to life-changing programs.

The success of this program is clearly borne out by the number. The high school students enrolled in the program are significantly more likely to pursue a higher education degree. Once they begin, the success story continues, with notable improvements in graduation rates from both two and four year college programs. With experts projecting a growing shortfall in the number of degrees necessary to meet workforce demand, the work they do to address a myriad of problems is essential to our future success.

However, it was clear that addressing issues of college accessibility and success in Massachusetts requires a joint effort. In recent years the legislature has established the Dual Enrollment Partnership and STEM Starter Academies, to propel underrepresented students in to college courses.

We have also expanded access by attacking cost as a barrier to higher education. High costs without reasonable assistance force qualified applicants to abandon a plan of long-term prosperity because it is not compatible with the necessity of short term survival. And students who have successfully completed their degrees are forced to spend important post-graduation years de-leveraging debt, rather than capitalizing on their educational investment.

To do this we have introduced programs at the state level to complement the work done by MEOA and others. This includes the UMass 50/50 plan, which created a vital partnership between the commonwealth, students, and their families. If a student’s family provides a fifty percent of the total costs for attending a UMass institution, the state matches their contribution.

Less than two months ago, we announced a new partnership between two community colleges and two state universities that uses our tremendous educational resources to eliminate financial barriers to college completion. The 30K commitment creates an affordable and manageable path to graduation in a high-demand field. By offering seamless transitions from our community colleges to our state universities, students who stay on track for a timely graduation can complete four years of school for under 30 thousand dollars; notably less than the cost for a single year at many private institutions. Not only will these students be in better financial health upon graduation, but they will be well qualified to advance in industries essential to tomorrow’s economy.

Advocate of higher education were also able to secure increased funding for individual financial aid in recent years. This includes providing an additional 3 million dollars per year through the MASSGrant scholarship program. While these are important changes that will help alleviate burdens for our students, the importance of these programs has been significantly devalued. In 1998 a MASSGrant scholarship covered 80% of the tuition and fees attributed to a student, while now they cover an average of 9%. We CAN do better.

As demonstrated by the yearly reports on the vision project, progress is being made. In terms of fulfilling the needs of our future economy, we’ve witnessed a 61 recent growth in STEM and Health Care related degrees since 2007. The October 2014 update reported that gap in college participation rates between African-American and white young adults has narrowed from 18 to 6 percentage points in five years.

The importance of Massachusetts’ higher education system is immense. Not only does it have a direct benefit for the individuals it serves, achieving the system’s potential is a prerequisite for our economic and social success.

As we consider the programs and policies that will continue this progress, it is important that we understand and utilize the tremendous resources available to us. Massachusetts boasts one of the most storied concentrations of prestigious colleges and universities in the world. Maintaining this position requires dedication to the ideals of a higher education, as a means for students to learn about the world and themselves. There is no doubt in my mind that the work to enhance our higher education system must be tailored to meet the needs of individual students across the commonwealth. No student who seeks an education to better themselves and our commonwealth should be barred from this goal for financial reasons. Thanks to the dedication of advocates and the growing prominence of federal and state programs that promote college access, this vision is a possibility. I look forward to continuing this work during this session and for many years into the future.

Thank you.

Release Date: 
June 18, 2015