High college tuition costs and low graduation rates are two related issues in the state that Massachusetts officials are confronting with a promising new program.
On Thursday, Governor Baker and state education officials unveiled the "Commonwealth Commitment," which provides financial incentives for students to continue their education at state schools. By helping students reduce their payments, it will be easier for them to stay in school long enough to get a degree, which is increasingly valuable in today's job marketplace.
The program provides community college students with 10 percent rebates on tuition and fees at the end of each semester. Students are required to maintain a 3.0 grade point average and must earn their associate's degree in no more than 21/2 years. Students who then move on to a state university receive a 10 percent discount on fees and tuition is waived for two years. They are required to obtain their bachelor's degree within 41/2 years. On average, students should save about $5,000 by graduation according to state officials, who told The Boston Globe that while the program is similar to those in other states it is more ambitious than any other program.
While public higher education is less expensive than a private education, it can still be difficult for students whose families do not have high incomes or substantial savings to finance. Natalie Higgins, who directs the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, endorsed the plan in The Globe but urged the Legislature to go beyond the level-funding proposed for public colleges and universities proposed for the next fiscal year.
Community colleges like Berkshire Community College have roles that go beyond the awarding of degrees. Many students, for example, are taking courses that prepare them for openings in the local employment market. An associate's degree is obviously valuable, however, and community college graduation rates are generally low. That degree can lead to the bachelor's degree that many employers put a premium upon.
The Commonwealth Commitment, which is only open to state residents, will clearly help students who want to pursue a degree but are confronting costs they have difficulty financing. The program will also encourage more students to get an education at the state's public schools. It is an imaginative concept that should have long-term benefits for students and schools in Massachusetts.