FRAMINGHAM – Today, November 17, the Baker-Polito Administration joined high school and college students for a roundtable discussion to highlight the significant progress made by the administration in reducing barriers to access and affordability of earning college degrees. Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Secretary of Education James Peyser, Commissioner of Higher Education (DHE) Noe Ortega, Senate President Karen Spilka, Framingham State University President Dr. Nancy Niemi, Mass Bay Community College President David Podell and legislators heard from local students about how the administration’s Early College programming and financial aid initiatives, like MassGrant Plus, allowed them the opportunity to pursue college courses, credits and degrees.
“Providing students in Massachusetts with a clear, accessible path to college has been a priority of the Baker-Polito Administration since taking office, and the impact that our administration’s significant investment in programs like Early College has had on students is clear,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “We remain committed to ensuring that every student has the tools and resources accessible to them for success in the classroom, on college campuses and in the workforce.”
“Offering students and learners of all ages opportunities to explore exciting careers and coursework through Early College programming is critical to not just their success, but the continued and future success of the Massachusetts workforce,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “We are proud of these important partnerships between schools, higher educational institutes and employers, and we look forward to the continued accomplishments that Early College programming will deliver.”
Since the launch of the Early College program in 2017, the Baker-Polito Administration has undertaken a statewide effort to expand Early College to substantially increase the number of high school students who take college courses and earn credits at no cost before they graduate high school. The Fiscal Year 2023 budget signed by the Governor included a significant increase to Early College funding to bring the total annual investment to more than $19 million.
“Over the past several years, we have worked hard to increase access to college by creating more affordable pathways, increase college completion rates – particularly for first-generation college-goers and underrepresented student populations – simplify the process for students to transfer credits from one public campus to another, and address affordability issues by eliminating unmet financial need for low-income students,” said Education Secretary James Peyser. “We have made great strides around college affordability through all of these initiatives and are very pleased that they made a difference in thousands of young peoples’ lives.”
“Access to college-level coursework and credits gives students, many of whom may be the first in their families to pursue higher education, a chance to invest in themselves and their futures,” said Senate President Karen Spilka. “Creating pathways to affordable higher education not only has a direct impact on fulfilling an individual’s career goals but is pivotal in closing the workforce skills gap and creating an economy that works for everyone. The Senate is proud of the historic investments made in our public colleges and universities, early college programs, and scholarship opportunities which make achieving a degree possible for many. Building upon these commitments remains a priority of mine heading into the new legislative session, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on this critical issue.”
Early College programs combine traditional high school courses with an opportunity to earn college credit at a college or university. Currently, there are approximately 5,400 students enrolled in Early College courses at 50 high schools across the Commonwealth. The Executive Office of Education anticipates that number to grow to 8,700 students by the 2024-2025 school year. About half of the Commonwealth’s Gateway Cities have Early College programs at their high schools, and nearly 60 percent of students enrolled in Early College come from low-income backgrounds. More than half of Early College students identify as students of color.
Students who participate in Early College programs enroll in college at significantly higher rates than their high school peers, and it boosts college completion rates for low-income, minority and first-generation college students. In 2019, approximately 76 percent of Early College students enrolled in college after graduation compared to 55 percent of their peers who did not participate in Early College.
Framingham students are introduced to Early College starting in 8th grade. Currently, there are 257 students enrolled, and the number is expected to double over the next 18 months. To date, students have collectively earned 2,100 college credits, a savings of nearly $500,000 in tuition for families. All students have faculty and teacher support in addition to academic tutoring, wellness meetings, college readiness and career exploration excursions and enrichment.
“Our Early College efforts have been years in the making and with even more growth on the horizon,” said Framingham Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Tremblay.“Our collaborative efforts across the city’s range of educational partners, from PreK through 16, have indeed captured the attention of many and our students remain the greatest beneficiary of this collaboration with the incredible support of the leadership of the Commonwealth.”
In 2018, the Baker-Polito Administration launched MassGrant Plus scholarships to cover the unmet costs of tuition and mandatory fees for all low-income community college students. The scholarships were later expanded to all eligible public college and university students, and now include all eligible University of Massachusetts students. MassGrant Plus is a last-dollar, needs-based grant that enables thousands of undergraduate students to attend Massachusetts’ public colleges and universities without taking on personal debt for tuition and fees related to instruction. Governor Baker signed an historic increase to financial aid as part of the FY2023 budget, with a record $175 million in state scholarships, an increase of over 85 percent since 2015.
This investment enables MassGrant Plus financial aid grants to be extended to all income-eligible students at community colleges, public universities, and the University of Massachusetts, ensuring that every low-income student at every public higher education campus will have their tuition and mandatory fees fully covered. MassGrant Plus scholarships are awarded to students by each public college or university. The Department of Higher Education updated the guidelines to provide greater flexibility to campuses to make the process easier to award the grants to cover the costs of tuition and instructional fees, as well as a stipend for books and supplies.
“The investment in MassGrant Plus has significantly increased access to the Commonwealth’s public community colleges and universities. Expansion of financial aid is key to advancing the Equity Agenda. And programs like Early College and MassTransfer also increase access and choice for students and demonstrate the expansive opportunities at our public colleges or universities,” said Department of Higher Education Commissioner Noe Ortega.
The Department of Higher Education’s Office of Student Financial Assistance this fall also launched MASSAid, a college cost and financial aid eligibility tool that enables prospective college students to understand their expected college costs. Students who file a federal application for Free Student Aid (FAFSA) will automatically receive a text message from the Massachusetts Office of Student Financial Assistance within 72 hours of their FAFSA submission, inviting them to create an account on MASSAid to learn more about state financial aid opportunities.
Once logged into MASSAid, students can:
- View and compare the costs of attending any college or university in Massachusetts;
- View their expected family contribution – the amount the federal government expects students and families to pay towards the cost of college – as calculated by the FAFSA;
- View their federal Pell Grant award amount;
- View their potential eligibility for 11 different forms of state financial aid, based on the student’s FAFSA data and additional information provided by the student through the tool; and
- Access additional information regarding state financial aid programs and contact information for the financial aid offices of every Massachusetts college and university.