During the past few years, dozens of for-profit schools have suddenly discontinued their programs in Massachusetts, while others have recruited students through unfair or deceptive practices. As a result, thousands of students have been left without a degree and thousands of dollars in debt. This legislation would bring financial relief to students who are victims of unscrupulous for-profit schools by making Massachusetts the 23rd state to create a student tuition recovery fund. Administered by Attorney General Maura Healey—who has co-sponsored this bill and made it a top priority for the upcoming session—the fund would reimburse students for economic losses suffered because of a for-profit school’s discontinuation of one or more of its educational programs, failure to fulfill its contractual obligations, or failure to comply with state or federal law. For-profit schools would support the fund through small annual assessments.
As the student debt crisis continues, young employees are starting to view loan repayment as a valuable workplace benefit. Of those who took American Student Assistance’s 2015 Life Delayed survey, 76 percent said that their choice to take a job would be considerably affected by an employer’s willingness to offer student loan repayment. Despite that high level interest, only 3 percent of employers offer loan repayment programs. Massachusetts can help increase that percentage through a few small changes to the state tax code. This legislation incentivizes employer-based student loan repayment programs by allowing employers to take a tax deduction equal to the loan payments it made on behalf of its employees, capped at $2,000 for any individual employee. The bill also excludes up to $2,000 in loan payments made by an employer from an employee’s taxable income, making the benefit more valuable to workers.
Funding for public colleges and universities has dwindled in recent decades, with state appropriations reduced by 14 percent since fiscal year 2001, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. Per student funding has dropped by 31 percent during the same period. This legislation makes long overdue investments in public higher education. It increases affordability by creating the Finish Line Grant, which will pay for one year of tuition and fees, other than the first year, for residents of the commonwealth whose households earn less than $125,000 per year. The bill also encourages stability for the higher education workforce by creating a mechanism for increasing the number of tenure-track positions and ensuring that non-tenure-track faculty are given consideration for those positions. Finally, it promotes workplace fairness by providing access to benefits for adjunct faculty, as well as requiring pay parity.
Financial aid packages are complex—not many young adults appreciate the distinction between a grant and a loan—and information about graduation and default rates can be hard to find, so it is incredibly difficult for students to carefully compare their financial aid options before they matriculate. This legislation requires every college in Massachusetts to provide a uniform financial aid shopping sheet to prospective students. Each institution would use the form developed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Department of Education, which would make it easy for students and their families to compare institutions by cost, grant amount, graduation rate, loan default rate, and expected monthly loan payments after graduation.
The Community College Training Incentive Program offers grants to support course offerings aimed at closing the skills gap. Right now, grants can only be awarded to not-for-credit courses, an unnecessary limitation that makes it more difficult for community colleges to integrate job-related skills into degree programs. There’s no reason that a course for a biotechnology technician degree should be ineligible for a training incentive grant. This legislation would expand the program to include for-profit colleges so that community colleges can more effectively educate the commonwealth’s future workforce.
This legislation instructs the commissioner of the Department of Revenue to allow taxpayers to designate multiple accounts at financial institutions for the electronic deposit of a tax refund or abatement. A taxpayer would be allowed, for example, to split a tax refund between a checking account and a 529 college savings plan.
Massachusetts residents, many of them low income, are taking out huge loans to attend private colleges from which very few students graduate. These schools leave their students in the dire situation of having no degree and an insurmountable load of debt. This legislation increases accountability for those and other postsecondary institutions by stipulating that in order to receive state scholarship or financial aid funds, they must maintain a graduation rate of at least 30 percent and an average three-year cohort default rate that is no greater than 20 percent. It creates an incentive for colleges to improve their performance and a disincentive for students to attend schools that are unlikely to graduate them in a timely manner.
This legislation would prevent state universities and the University of Massachusetts from increasing fees for students in any fiscal year during which 50 per cent of their operating costs are funded through state appropriations and 100 per cent of their collective bargaining obligations are funded through state appropriations. The universities would be able to petition the board of higher education for an increase.
This legislation adds a new section to Chapter 15A of the General Laws codifying the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship Program. It increases the size of the award so that it covers both tuition and fees, rather than just tuition. It also removes the MCAS-related eligibility requirements and replaces them with an eligibility requirement based on class rank.
This legislation allows the University of Massachusetts to insure buildings that it owns or occupies.