BOSTON — Massachusetts Maritime Academy freshman Mikayla Bradford is the first person in her family to go to college, and the graduate of a technical high school where she said students weren't expected to continue their education and some didn't believe they could.
Bradford, who is studying emergency management and works as an EMT on campus, said she picked her school primarily for two reasons: its regimented atmosphere and the amount of financial aid she could get.
"I'm only a freshman. I've got three more years to go, so that's three more years of money," Bradford, a Worcester native, told the News Service. "The funding that goes to us as students is really the only reason I can go to college."
Bradford was among more than 100 students from the state's nine public universities who visited the State House Wednesday to ask lawmakers for help keeping the schools affordable.
Students planned to ask their senators and representatives to support an increase in the state financial aid line item, taking the position that small increases to the account have not kept pace with the rising cost of attending college. According to the State Universities of Massachusetts, the average MASSGrant award was once able to cover 85 percent of total student costs but now covers 9 percent.
In his fiscal 2017 budget proposal, Gov. Charlie Baker recommended $96,020,042 in funding for the Massachusetts State Scholarship Program, up from the $95,607,756 budgeted in 2016.
"This is not just a debate about funding," said Melissa Edberg, a Worcester State University student who chairs the student advisory council to the state's Board of Higher Education. "This is a debate about whether working class families are entitled to an affordable education without compromising the quality of our education due to insufficient state support."
In a talking points sheet distributed to the students, the state universities identified collective bargaining costs obligations as "the number one priority for our campuses."
"Everybody in this room and everyone in the Legislature knows that the presidents and your administration have nothing to do with signing those contracts but everything to do with funding them if the commonwealth doesn't step up and pay those bills," Vincent Pedone, the executive officer of the State University Council of Presidents and a former state representative, told the students. "We've been knocking on the governor's door saying, at the very least, Governor, we've got to recognize that there's $8 million worth of unpaid bills from last year and now we're starting to roll into this year, so one of the big things we're going to be talking about to keep the affordability where it is right now is collective bargaining, and the second is financial aid."
Massachusetts has nine state universities: Bridgewater State, Fitchburg State, Framingham State, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, Salem State, Westfield State, and Worcester State.
According to the state university system, the nine schools charge an average annual tuition of just over $9,000 and Massachusetts residents account for more than 90 percent of their student body. More than 85 percent of state university graduates stay in the state after completing school, according to the system.