“It’s more so up to the state to step in and help with the unbelievable amount of debt that state colleges are in.”
Public higher-ed students, staff and faculty are shedding light on the growing problem of campus debt held by state colleges and universities, and its effect on student fees.
While the state used to pay for building costs on public college and university campuses, individual campuses more recently have had to take out loans to finance building projects. Revenue from auxiliary services such as student room and board often go toward debt payments.
Joanna Gonsalves, psychology professor at Salem State University and member of the Massachusetts State College Association Salem Chapter, said fees have been going up to make up the difference.
“These debt payments annually range anywhere from a few million to UMass Amherst, which pays $95 million a year in debt service, and it’s unfair,” Gonsalves argued. “We feel like it’s a generation of students that are being taxed for the buildings rather than the taxpayers.”
Gonsalves noted when students were not living in the dorms during the pandemic, the loss of revenue brought the issue of campus debt to the forefront. She added the UMass system owes $3 billion, and other state universities owe $1.2 billion. Groups are calling for more state investments, as well as increased taxes for the Commonwealth’s wealthiest residents.
Tyler Risteen, a junior sociology major at Framingham State University, said rates of enrollment at her university have been on the decline.
“Me, personally, and I know a lot of my friends who I go to school with, they chose these state schools because it’s supposed to be cheaper,” Risteen explained. “The government is supposed to be helping us, but in reality, it’s just the schools taking out loans and then us paying for those loans.”
Gayathri Raja, a sophomore economics major at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, said there is a sentiment colleges are raising tuition and fees out of greed, but she thinks there is a larger structural problem.
“They’re allowed to sit on a good amount of assets, despite having so much debt,” Raja pointed out. “And that’s not even a college’s fault. That’s just how the financial system is constructed, and it’s kind of more so up to the state to step in and help with the unbelievable amount of debt that state colleges are in.”
She said voters in November get to approve or disapprove what’s known as the Fair Share Amendment, which would increase the tax rate by four percentage pointed for those making more than a million dollars a year, and put those funds toward education. Opponents worry such a tax would cause high earners to leave the state.
Raja added a bill before the General Court, the Cherish Act, would also allocate more state funding to public higher ed.