Opinion/ Your Turn: Mass. community colleges lead way on accountability in higher ed.

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On October 1, 925,000 Bay States Over $32.3 billion in student loan debt continues to be paid off. with Massachusetts ranks #43 among states with the lowest student debt It’s no exaggeration to say that many borrowers have to make a tough choice between cutting back on or paying off essential expenses like food and utilities at graduation. Some will be the first in their families to put aside their dream of home ownership or have to delay retirement.

In response to this national crisis, The Biden-Harris administration has officially established protections Avoiding the burden of student loan debt that is too high compared to the student’s income after earning a degree. It is the objective of the Geneful Employment (GE) Act. To protect about 700,000 students Each year, the loan payments from job training programs are covered. At the same time, the Financial Value Transparency (FVT) framework aims to provide students with detailed information about the net costs and expected financial outcomes of postsecondary programs.

Starting next summer, for-profit colleges and non-degree certificate programs will have to prove they are a good investment for their students or lose access to federal aid for enrolled students. They must also demonstrate that the majority of their graduates are earning more than adults with only a high school diploma in their state.

This is good news for students and for Massachusetts’ 15 community colleges. Cape Cod Community CollegeReady to accept responsibility for long-term financial security of students. In August, Gov. Maura Healey started MassReconnect to create a free community college for Massachusetts residents 25 and older who do not have a college degree and enroll in at least 6 credits per semester. Although Massachusetts’ overall population is declining, an estimated 1.8 million high school graduates may be eligible for MassReconnect, contributing to the state’s declining college enrollment. The impetus came after the expansion of Boston. Tuition Free Community College (TFCC) Plan earlier this year.

Community colleges across the country have experienced steep declines since the pandemic, but a similar program for a free community college in Rhode Island has seen enrollment rise more than five times in a row, including a 5% increase this fall. The Maine Community College System, which also offers a free tuition program, has experienced a A 16% increase this fallThe student population is now the largest in history. That compares with a 4.4% increase for community colleges nationally, according to the most recent data. National Student Clearing House Survey.

Another way community colleges can innovate is by rethinking transfer options. Competency-based schools that partner with online often help older working students get a four-year degree. High school students who participate in dual enrollment programs at local community college campuses can save time and money to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Community college degree programs are often tied to local workforce opportunities, and a quality education is still key to achieving upward mobility and preparing for a fulfilling, rewarding career. Benefits over income. 2021 median income For Massachusetts residents with a bachelor’s degree It was about $69,300, compared to a median income of $40,400 for high school graduates without a college degree. These income and opportunity gaps are compounding every year and spanning generations.

And that is the key. Results are ultimately what matter most. The federal government is stepping in to make sure students are attending programs that give them a reasonable chance to build a better life.

By continuing to support Massachusetts community colleges and focusing on proven outcomes, we can change the narrative around higher education debt and give students the credentials employers trust.

Rebecca L. Watts, Ph.D., is the regional vice president of Western Governors University.

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