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Mass. May Add Aid for Neediest Students and Cut Other Programs

By Sarah Schweitzer 
and Marcella Bombardieri


Financial aid for Massachusetts’ neediest college students would be increased, and some state grants available to middle-class students would be eliminated, under a draft proposal aimed at helping low-income students attend college.

Under the proposal, made public Thursday by the state chancellor of higher education, $51 million would be diverted from two state grant programs that serve both lower-income and middle-class students and would be combined with the $25 million in the Mass Grant program, which is solely for low-income students from families with incomes under $36,000. That would allow the Mass Grant program to give every low-income student $3,600 a year, essentially the cost of attending a community college. The neediest students now get an average of about $1,600 to attend community college.

Chancellor Judith Gill said that cuts in state support for higher education in recent years have left only enough money to aid the neediest students, and that she hoped legislators would increase the financial aid budget next year to allow state education officials to restore grants to middle-class students.

Higher education officials could not say how many middle-class students would be affected by the proposal. This year, some 41,500 students received Gilbert and Access grants, the two programs that would be phased out. They are available to students who can demonstrate financial need under a complicated formula. Still, some students with family incomes of up to $80,000 can qualify for the Gilbert grant, for example.

Representative Kevin Murphy, the House chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, said in an interview Thursday that he had not been consulted by education officials before they announced their proposal, and he reacted angrily to the suggestion that the Legislature had not adequately supported state colleges and universities.

“If they are talking about the Legislature not ponying up, you’d think they’d have at least the courtesy of talking to me about this before going public with it,” he said, noting that the Legislature is considering a bill to earmark $100 million for higher education capital projects. “I am sort of saddened that they would float the idea without at least giving me the opportunity to review it first.”