AP NEWS

Student Activists Stage Sit-in Over Tuition Costs

May 17, 2019

BOSTON — Student activists on Thursday staged a sit-in outside the offices of Beacon Hill’s legislative leaders, urging top Democrats to schedule votes on a bill that would provide free public higher education to Massachusetts residents.

“The average student at UMass graduates with over $30,000 in debt, and that’s from a public college, so how can the state commit to this next generation of students who are just trying to move forward with their lives and get higher education and they’re going to be in debt for the rest of their lives?” said Tamar Stollman, a University of Massachusetts Amherst freshman and student organizer with the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts.

Equipped with iced coffees, water bottles and individual-sized bags of Goldfish crackers for their day roaming the marble corridors of the State House, the students wore red T-shirts and signs around their necks with numbers in the thousands of dollars.

Emma Kinney, a University of Massachusetts Amherst freshman, wore a $50,000 tag, which she said represents her expected student debt load.

The sit-in was intended to call for debate and passage of a bill (S 744, H 1221) that would create a grant program to cover the full cost of tuition and fees for Massachusetts residents attending state colleges and universities or certificate, vocational or training programs at public institutions.

While lawmakers have shown interest in taking steps toward easing the higher education cost burden, there’s little momentum in the Legislature behind making public higher education free to students.

Kinney said the student group would back an increase to the capital gains tax or a tax on private university endowments over $1 billion as forms of “progressive taxation in order to support free public higher education for students of Massachusetts.”

The endowment tax, an idea backed by 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez, and proposals to boost the capital gains tax have failed to attract major support within the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

The group spent the morning outside House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office, then planned to move across the third floor to stake out Senate President Karen Spilka’s office.

Stollman said the group “will be here until we get a meeting” with DeLeo and Spilka, with plans to return to the State House Friday and Monday.

The Senate’s version of the fiscal 2020 budget, teed up for debate next week, includes language requiring UMass to freeze its tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates next school year. That measure has sparked pushback from university officials who say a tuition freeze without an associated funding increase will force spending cuts across the four undergraduate campuses.

The sit-in comes on a day where thousands of students, educators, parents and activists are expected to converge on Beacon Hill to call for more funding for public K-12 and higher education.

Rallies are planned on Boston Common and in Pittsfield and Springfield.

As a separate student group walked by the advocates camped outside of DeLeo’s office late Thursday morning, one passerby told them, “Thank you for speaking for us.