Governor can tout higher-ed boost, but the numbers tell a different story

June 14, 2011

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IN APRIL Governor Patrick was on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show’’ promoting his book “A Reason to Believe,’’ and in the interview he claimed that under his administration Massachusetts had “invested in education.’’ He was on Comedy Central, so one presumes this statement was a joke. Unfortunately, when it comes to the price of public higher education, many middle-class families are not laughing (“Strapped colleges resort to fee hikes,’’ Metro, June 6).

Between 2008 and 2010, Patrick cut funding for the UMass system by 13 percent, for state universities by 14 percent, and for community colleges by 15 percent. The decrease in funding for public higher ed has been chalked up to the end of federal stimulus dollars. Yet the governor knew that this revenue stream would dry up, and now that it has, he seems to assume that no one will notice that he has overseen massive cuts.

Parents and students pay the price. At my own institution, the consequence of Patrick’s cuts has been the acceleration of a decade-long slide into virtual privatization. In 2001, Fitchburg State University received 62 percent of its budget from state appropriations, whereas today it receives only 36 percent. The only means of battling declining state appropriations and increasing costs has been fee increases.

Lest the public think that the increased costs came from burgeoning payrolls, let me assure you that this has not been the case. Since 2001, the overall staff at Fitchburg State has shrunk by 8.5 percent.

There is no reason to believe that Massachusetts has “invested’’ in public higher education. There is, by contrast, sufficient reason to believe that fee increases will continue unabated.

Sean C. Goodlett, Fitchburg The writer is a history professor at Fitchburg State University, where he is also chapter president of the Faculty and Librarian Association.