By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- College students juggling classwork and jobs to pay the bills were given a pep talk Monday by one of the lawmakers with the greatest sway over financial aid levels in the state budget.
"Don't hesitate to call upon your local rep, to call upon your local senator and let them know what's on your mind, and what's important to each and every one of you, and how you feel that they can make the state better," House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the students from area colleges.
He said, "It is my hope that upon graduation from one of Massachusetts's fine higher educational institutions you will choose to stay here in Massachusetts, and continue to be part of this incredible environment. And it is also my hope that the Legislature can continue to provide robust financial aid resources and economic investments to help make this goal a reality."
The students from Babson, Emmanuel, Merrimac and Newbury colleges -- to name a few -- were in the State House to lobby lawmakers for more funding.
Narimane Khaled, an aerospace engineering student who is graduating one year early from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, said her family had moved to the city to support her educational endeavor, but her work-study job and another job left her little time.
"I didn't enjoy my college experience at all. I spent all of it studying and working," Khaled told the News Service. Khaled said she appreciated the hands-on training WPI provides, and said her family moved from Woonsocket, R.I. so she could live at home and attend the school. She said although she would not benefit from an increase, she is advocating for more state funding to help others in similar situations.
Jason McKinney, of Worcester, said he hadn't anticipated the "high cost" of WPI, and said his family doesn't have the means to co-sign loans.
"I'm basically on my own right now when it comes to that," the freshman told the News Service. A robotics-engineering and computer science student, he said he has taken work at Metso Automation to make ends meet.
Sen. Sal DiDomenico, an Everett Democrat who grew up in Cambridge, said monetary concerns had prevented him from completing his education at Boston College on time.
"I was in a similar position myself not too long ago. Going to college, not sure how I was going to pay for it, having three siblings behind me that were also going to go to college," DiDomenico said.
The assistant vice chairman of Senate Ways and Means, DiDomenico said he went to BC full-time for two years, and then went to the Woods College of Advancing Studies at night while working.
Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts CEO Richard Doherty said the Board of Higher Education recommended a $9 million or $10 million increase in the budget for financial aid and state scholarships, which is currently at $90.6 million.
Doherty said AICUM supports the same level of increase and said he expects a smaller bump, such as the $3 million increase the student funding received last year.
"Too premature to say; have to look at the budget as a whole; but I think you realize the emphasis that I placed on higher education," DeLeo said when asked whether he also wants a $9 million increase.
DeLeo has said the House budget will include more local aid for cities and towns than was included in Gov. Deval Patrick's budget proposal.
Last year, the Legislature and Patrick provided enough funding for state higher education to put a freeze on tuitions and fees in the UMass system, and the goal laid out by UMass President Robert Caret had been for a two-year freeze combined with more state funding.
"It's too early to say, but I would say that's one of the issues that we are taking a look at," DeLeo said when asked about whether there will be a second year of no payment increases for state school students.
On Monday at an event in the Great Hall, DeLeo praised the private colleges and universities that make up much of the educational landscape in Massachusetts, and help educate people entering the science, technology, engineering and math fields.
"More than 70 percent of students entering STEM fields come from the Commonwealth's independent colleges," DeLeo said.
DeLeo advised the students to tell lawmakers why more funding would be beneficial to them, and DiDomenico suggested young people in general could have more of a say.
"We all know that senior citizens get a lot of attention up here. They get a lot of attention because they vote," DiDomenico said, advising the young people in the room to take an active role in the government.
An East Boston native who now lives in Winthrop, DeLeo attended Northeastern University, where he told the News Service he had a co-op job with American Airlines.
"First job was working with American Airlines, nothing at all to do with my major, but at the same token it really gave me the opportunity to travel throughout the country. So it was a great job as a college student: twelve bucks to go to California," DeLeo said.