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On the hook for an education


Rep. Mark in favor of increased state funding for public higher ed.

Greenfield Recorder 12/27/2013, Page A01

By CHRIS SHORES Recorder Staff

GREENFIELD — A subcommittee of the state Legislature investigating college affordability and rising student loan debt, will likely recommend a second straight year of increased state funding to public colleges and universities, according to state Rep. Paul Mark, who represents Greenfield in the Legislature.

Mark — a Democrat from Peru and co-chair of the Joint Subcommittee on Student Loans and Debt — said other recommendations to the House and Senate may include funding financial literacy programs, forgiving the student loans of graduates with certain jobs and doing a better job of promoting the state’s college savings plan.

The recommendations will come in March, nearly six months after the formation of the subcommittee and during the heart of the Legislature’s budget season.

The amount of money the state provided last year was enough for public schools, like Greenfield Community College and the University of Massachusetts, to freeze fee increases for its students. Mark said that all members of Franklin County’s delegation are in support of continuing this level of funding in 2014.

Mark and his fellow subcommittee members held seven hearings at public colleges and universities across the state this fall, including one in September at Greenfield Community College.

In western Massachusetts, there was more concern about “peripheral issues (like transportation access) that you wouldn’t think affect the price of obtaining a college education,” said Mark.

At all of the listening sessions, he heard stories about students who said they didn’t understand the loans they were signing up for or were under the impression that they’d be earning far higher salaries in their first year out of college. Speakers suggested that more financial counseling needs to occur at the high school level, said Mark.

One bill slowly working its way through the Legislature would set up a loan forgiveness program for social workers, who pay to earn a master’s degree and then have to pay off debt with low-paying state jobs, he said.

That same philosophy applied to health care in western Massachusetts, said Mark. He’s exploring the idea of a bill that would partner with health organizations to provide medical school loan refunds for physicians — an attempt to draw physicians to the area and bolster the region’s health care.

He also found that many were unaware of the state’s savings plan, U.Plan, which allows students and parents to prepay tuition years in advance. An account made today that pays 10 percent of tuition at UMass will still be worth 10 percent when the student enrolls in school — even if tuition rises dramatically during that time.

You can reach Chris Shores at:cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 264