Estimated $24 Billion in College Debt Has Massachusetts Students Seeking Relief

SPRINGFIELD — Juhi Dasrath, a student at Springfield Technical Community College, is in the vanguard of a new band of activists urging government to take steps to help erase skyrocketing student debt, which has left almost one million Massachusetts in hock to the tune of $24 billion.

An intern with STCC's PHENOM chapter (Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts), Dasrath helped organize a campus event on Wednesday that drew 300 students to sign a petition to Gov. Charlie Baker urging him to take steps to make college more accessible and affordable.

STCC students took time between classes on Wednesday to stop in at Scibelli Hall to sign the petition that the group plans to deliver to the governor during a Statehouse rally planned for next month.

"We urge students to sign the letter to Governor Baker and take a stand because their signature is the first step on a long road to erase student debt, which is an ongoing problem undergraduate and graduate students face," Dasruth said

The event on Wednesday was also held to rally support President Barack Obama's proposal that would make a community college education free to any American. The administration estimates that 9 million students could participate in the program, saving an average of $3,800 in tuition per year.

The White House said the plan would cost the federal government roughly $60 billion over 10 years.

In the letter to the governor, the STCC community noted that "tuition and fees at Massachusetts institutions remain substantially higher than the national average (26 percent higher at four-year institutions and 39 percent at two-year institutions)."

The letter said the soaring costs of higher education discourage some students from applying to colleges at a time when recent reports "suggest the Massachusetts public higher education system will fall short of meeting the state's need for new associate's and bachelor's degrees by a minimum of 55,000 to 65,000 by 2025.

"Currently, 980,000 Massachusetts residents have more than $24 billion in student debt. This has a substantial negative effect on the economy (less people buying a home, a new car, or dining out). With 90 percent of Massachusetts public higher education students remaining in Massachusetts after graduation, these graduates remain burdened with debt and unable to fully participate in our state's economy for decades," the letter said.

Wednesday's event was a prelude to a March 4 PHENOM rally when thousands of students will converge on the Boston Commons and the Statehouse to advocate for increased investment in public education, according to Andrea Tarpey, coordinator of student services at STCC. Tarpey said STCC will send a bus to Boston for the rally and that almost 50 students have signed up to make the trip.

Tarpey said the local PHENOM chapter, which includes students, faculty and union members, is gaining members and recognition on campus. "We were very pleased with today's turnout," she said on Wednesday.

Dasrath said the educational debt students accumulate can be crippling. "The debt disables them from fulfilling their dreams," she said.

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