Mount Wachusett Community College President James Vander Hooven testified before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Higher Education in favor of affordable college Monday.
The president was one of numerous community members and officials who spoke at the committee’s public hearing at Leominster High School on Monday, Sept. 11. The discussion centered around Senate Bill 702 and House Bill 640, both aimed at strengthening higher education opportunities. The bills came about as the state explores different options for affordable college, with the day’s discussion centering around current affordability concerns and what “free” or “debt free” college could look like in the Commonwealth.
“These initiatives would directly support our collective missions by improving student success and helping institutions provide affordable, accessible and high-quality education,” said President Vander Hooven. “I’d like to speak in favor of initiatives that provide free or debt-free college.”
Those who testified stressed the financial difficulties many students face as they transition from high school to college. President Vander Hooven told the committee that nearly 60 percent of the college’s students receive financial aid and 25 percent attend for free. However, there are still hardships faced by many students, such as working long hours on top of classes to ensure their family has enough to eat.
“For community college students, costs are more than tuition and fees. It’s textbooks, transportation and food insecurity just to name a few. Any effort to provide free community college should require such attention to the true cost of education for our students,” “The presidents of the 15 community colleges of Massachusetts stand ready to work with the members of the legislature to explore these details and how we can best serve students.”
Following his testimony, Representative Natalie Higgins of Leominster asked whether the school had the capacity to handle additional students, citing worries that colleges and universities in the state might become overwhelmed with an influx of students if “free” college came to pass. President Vander Hooven explained that the school is well positioned throughout the region at the college’s three campuses to educate students who would make use of such a program.
The president also stressed there are many current programs students are making use of to get an affordable education, including free early college programs. More information on financial aid and early college programs is available at mwcc.edu/financial/ and mwcc.edu/access/programs/dual-enrollment-pt/.