Lawmakers discuss student debt at UMass hearing

AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – Zack Gittlen is a UMass freshman hoping to graduate with a business degree. The young man from Northborough belongs to the two thirds of the state’s students who remain in Massachusetts and go on to a state public college or university. He said that he still does not know what kind of job he wants.

“I would like just something that hopefully I can enjoy and helps the world,” he said.

What Gittlen does know is that he will graduate in debt.  So too will a good majority of his classmates.  According to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and College, 27% of a student’s college costs are paid by loans.

“The historic standard for the family and student share has been about a third of the costs.  We have moved very far away from that all across the country and here in Massachusetts.  I would like to think of that as at least a goal to get back to,” Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education Richard Freedland said.

Freeland and others directed these concerns to the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee; as he testified during a budget hearing held at UMass Amherst on Tuesday.

The commissioner proposes increasing the amount of state aid available to in-state students; especially community college students who are forced to reduce their course loads or drop out in order to earn money for school.

“We’re at a number right now that’s below where we were before the recession.  We have to rebuild our system so that the burden of that cost and that excellence does not fall on the working class or the working poor of our Commonwealth,” Greenfield Community College President Robert Pura said.

Freeland proposes saving money in administrative support and moving it to the educational budget.

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