October 17, 2014
By Richard Doherty, AICUM President
Earlier this week, AICUM held a Presidents’ Only meeting at Emmanuel College, where we were joined by 25 presidents, along with senior staff representing presidents unable to attend. We were also joined by Senator Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst), who is expected to assume the mantle as President of the Senate in January, following the retirement of current Senate President Therese Murray. Senator Rosenberg has long been a strong advocate for higher education and we were pleased that he agreed to join us for 90 minutes to discuss the many critical roles that higher education plays in the state and to explore new ways for our colleges and universities to be of greater assistance to the Legislature and the Commonwealth.
Senator Rosenberg started the discussion by speaking to the indispensable role that institutions of higher education – both public and private – have in the Massachusetts economy. The Senator rightly pointed out that the higher education industry is one of the top four leading industries in Massachusetts (along with health care, financial services, and the life sciences) and directly contributes to the other leading industries, as they are all knowledge-based and thus dependent on an educated workforce.
When discussing the issues of college costs and affordability, Senator Rosenberg said he is committed to working with colleges and universities to explore creative solutions to maintaining affordability and reducing student debt. Building on the work of the Subcommittee on Student Loans and Debt this past legislative session, Senator Rosenberg expects that an omnibus higher education legislative bill will be filed implementing many of the recommendations, including an increase in need-based aid, creating a college savings incentive program, and targeted loan forgiveness. Senator Rosenberg also spoke passionately about the importance of lowering interest rates on student loans, comparing the current high rate paid by students to the much lower rate one receives when purchasing a car or home. He urged the presidents to work with him to develop a creative solution to lowering the rates currently offered.
Finally, Senator Rosenberg challenged colleges and universities to share the expertise of their faculty, staff and students, and, where appropriate, to partner with the Legislature to help solve some of the bigger problems facing the Commonwealth. As examples, Senator Rosenberg suggested that colleges and universities might be able to provide guidance and expertise to help find more efficient ways for the state to develop and implement large scale IT projects; to complete public construction projects (both vertical – i.e. bricks and mortar – and horizontal – i.e. roads and bridges), and; to rethink how the state can prevent incarceration and reduce recidivism rates.
Following the presentation of the challenges, our presidents had a number of suggestions of ways our colleges could contribute to solutions in the next legislative session. AICUM will be convening task forces consisting of experts from our colleges and universities to help address these and other challenges.