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FRAMINGHAM – On Tuesday. September 6 voters will decide between three Democrats to be the 6th Middlesex District’s state representative.

Voters in newly-created City of Framingham Precincts 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-10-11-12-13-14-15-16, and part of precinct 9 are part of the new 6th Middlesex District.

There are three candidates — former mayoral candidate Dhruba Sen, former District 7 City Councilor Margareth Shepard, and School Committee Chair Priscila Sousa.

SOURCE asked all three a series of questions last week. One of the questions focused on the cost of higher education in Massachusetts and whether there should be a free tuition program like the one in New York.

Each candidate was allowed up to 500 words to discuss the issue.

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QUESTION: The cost of higher education continues to rise. Even students who qualify for the Adams Scholarship for free tuition face a large bill. For example, UMass Amherst charges a student more than $15,000 a year, but the Adams scholarship is just $1,714. At Framingham State, the total student charge is $9,920, but the Adams scholarship is just $970.  Do you support a free tuition program like the one in New York State? If not, how would you help make college more affordable for students?

SHEPARD: “I support promoting access to quality higher education through free tuition and eliminating other school fees at state universities, colleges and state-run Technical-Vocational institutions for all state resident students coming from our public schools, independent of their immigration status, as a transition to a future free access to all students (including MA private school students and qualifying out-of-state students)”

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SOUSA: “As a first generation college graduate, I absolutely support any measure making higher education more accessible for every student. New York has helped level the playing field for higher education in a very significant way by including immigrants like myself into the conversation. As an elected official, however, I know the conversation needs to be much broader than free tuition.

The conversation needs to extend to access to in-state tuition at other higher education institutions. It needs to extend access to information for first generation students and their families about funding, how higher education works, and the brand new and ever changing vocabulary families learn at the drop of a dime for higher education. I remember sitting with my parents decades ago at a FAFSA information night at my high school reading the confusion on their faces. I remember seeing that same confusion materialize every January when it was time to fill out forms, or when explaining what was a Dean’s List. As chair of the School Committee, I hear these same stories today.

We can keep public higher education affordable and accessible through partnerships among municipalities, community colleges, businesses, state colleges and universities, and the Commonwealth.

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The Commonwealth Commitment program provides community college graduates who complete an Associates Degree, and then transfers to a state college or university discounts, rebates and a freeze on all mandatory student charges. This has been a program that has proven to be life changing for first generation graduates and their families, especially in families of neurodivergent students who would otherwise find the high stakes of a college education too complicated for their academic journey.

As state representative, I am committed to expanding educational opportunities and working to keep higher education affordable for all. I will support the continued funding of the Commonwealth Commitment program, and seek ways Framingham can participate in similar arrangements for increased access to higher education.

We are fortunate to have two institutions of higher education in our community. Our high school should continue and expand their partnerships with Massachusetts Bay Community College and Framingham State University for students to take college-level courses, earn college credits and open our students to new learning experiences and possibilities.

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Additionally, college is not always the best path for everyone. As a candidate endorsed by the Carpenters Local 336, I have heard their concerns about a long term decrease in numbers of incoming members into the trades. We are lucky to have Keefe Regional Technical High School in our community. Vocational schools train students in the skills they need for in-demand, well-paying careers. We are lucky to also have local institutions like High Impact Construction School aimed at preparing first generation immigrants for successful careers in the trades.

As state representative, I will work with the Keefe School Board and Superintendent and these local institutions on ensuring the state is providing the schools with the resources it needs for its students and teachers.

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SEN: “I support tuition free programs like that in NY – even more. Students are the future of the nation. The student debt burden will distract the students and impact their performance. For many, they carry the debt burden rest of their life, impacting their ability to be useful citizens of the nation.

Countries with some form of free college education include Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Czechia, Greece, Spain, Russia, China. There is no reason we cannot do it – using the Fair Share Amendment to the MA Constitution.”

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By editor

Susan Petroni is the former editor for SOURCE. She is the founder of the former news site, which as of May 1, 2023, is now a self-publishing community bulletin board. The website no longer has a journalist but a webmaster.