Massachusetts Senate tackles funding, transparency for college financial aid
BOSTON >> Senate lawmakers on Thursday passed separate measures to provide students with apples-to-apples comparisons of the cost of attending Bay State universities and to facilitate up to $7 million in new scholarship funding at the University of Massachusetts.
UMass would be able to use the funding included in a mid-year spending bill to pay for additional student financial aid, Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka said. The $167.6 million spending bill includes a total of $10.9 million in new state assistance to the university system, which had been sought last year to cover collective bargaining increases already paid out by the university.
The House included the same level of UMass funding in its version of the spending bill. Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and UMass President Marty Meehan worked out an arrangement last year to include funding for the union contracts in a spending bill in exchange for Meehan's commitment to privately raise funds for financial aid to students.
In a state that prides itself on its higher-education institutions, Bay State lawmakers also advanced a bill that would require universities in Massachusetts to formulate a financial aid "shopping sheet" for prospective students.
Sen. Eileen Donoghue, a Lowell Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said comparing the monetary implications of attending different schools is difficult even for people who are financially savvy. Donoghue said her bill would require schools to list the graduation rate, the amount of debt carried by students and the student loan default rate.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has championed the issue of student debt relief and the legislation adopts the financial aid shopping sheets developed by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Department of Education
Donoghue helped lead a subcommittee on the subject of student aid last session, reporting Thursday that in Massachusetts 66 percent of students have debt "in the range of $29,000 when they leave school."
The Senate adopted a provision sponsored by Sen. Eric Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat, stating that schools may also provide a mobile version of the financial aid shopping sheets. The bill, which has yet to be considered in the House, gives universities until the 2018-2019 school year to comply.
Also Thursday, the Senate passed a bill adjusting a community college workforce training incentive grant so that it would no longer apply to programs that do not count toward a degree.
"If you're not going to get credit for the program, it doesn't help you to move forward with obtaining your degree," Sen. Michael Moore, a Millbury Democrat who is Senate chairman of the Higher Education Committee, told the News Service. Moore said, "If we're going to be providing funding for programs, we are going to make sure that they are getting credit towards their degrees."
The Senate adopted a provision sponsored by Gloucester Republican Sen. Bruce Tarr, the minority leader, directing the Department of Higher Education and the Office of Labor and Workforce Development to explore how businesses could be encouraged to participate in a rapid response incentive program, including through the provision of tax credits.
The mid-year spending bill, the financial aid shopping-sheet legislation and the adjustment to the community college grant program each passed unanimously in the Senate.
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