Higher education chief decries cuts in funding
Massachusetts higher education commissioner Richard Freeland criticized state legislators yesterday for continuing to cut funding for public universities and colleges amid increased student demand, saying that they have put the system of 29 schools in a compromised position.
The campuses — including 15 community colleges, nine state universities, and the five-campus University of Massachusetts system — are at a crossroads, he said, forced to choose between maintaining affordability and maintaining quality.
“Massachusetts is headed in the wrong direction on this, and we are placing the future of the state in jeopardy,’’ Freeland said.
The Bay State has made some of the deepest cuts to higher education in the nation, he said, citing statistics from a State Higher Education Executive Officers report. Between 2004 and 2009, Massachusetts has slashed funding per student by 13.3 percent, while nationally, per-student funding rose by 4 percent.
State appropriation for public higher education has dropped an additional 12 percent since last year, a continuation of a “worrisome pattern,’’ Freeland said.
Campuses try to compensate for that by raising fees, but they can do only so much before public colleges are no longer affordable. This year, the state saw a 25 percent increase in the number of students eligible for need-based financial aid.
As a result of the cuts and colleges’ limited ability to raise fees, schools often make do by reducing their staffs, he said; that means fewer full-time professors and more part-time adjuncts on many campuses, especially community colleges. The reduction in full-time faculty compromises the academic advising that students receive, he said.
“Public higher education has simply not been a funding priority,’’ Freeland said. “We are mortgaging the future of the state by not paying attention to this.’’
Higher education officials say there is little pressure urging the Legislature to invest in public higher education because of the proliferation of private colleges in Massachusetts.
If Massachusetts does not start investing in public higher education, Freeland said, “We are not going to have people to draw upon for this economy going forward.’’
Freeland made his remarks during a 30-minute conference call with reporters.
Tracy Jan can be reached at email@example.com.