If you want to see the look of panic—cold sweat, hyperventilating, and terror—ask the parent of a teenager about the cost of college. The fear is real—and justified. Last year, the average college graduate received a diploma and a bill for $35,000 in loans. About 70 percent of students now have debt, a six-percent increase from 2005.

 UMass President Marty Meehan(@martymeehan) and Massachusetts Board of Higher Education Chairman Chris Gabrieli joined Jim to talk about a proposal to ease the higher education affordability burden for many students: Commonwealth Commitment. Under the program, full-time community college students who keep their grades up could get a ten-percent rebate on tuition and fees. They would also be offered incentives to pursue a bachelor’s degree at one of the state’s public universities upon completion of an associate’s degree.

The program, Meehan said, will raise money privately as well as through the UMass endowment.

In addition to making college more affordable, Gabrieli said the lower costs will encourage community college students to stay in the Massachusetts higher education system. After financial aid, he said, students who participate in Commonwealth Commitment could have a bachelor’s degree in four years for only $15,000. “That is the best deal in Massachusetts,” he said. "It’s the deal of the century."

Gabrieli said a lot of community college students don’t realize they can transfer to a state university if they do well. Through this new initiative, he said, “we want to highlight to them: stick to this path and you will get to where you want to.” 

Massachusetts hasn’t always been this committed to higher education, Meehan said. In a state full of renowned colleges like Harvard or MIT, public education has been viewed as intended for students who can’t afford private universities or who aren’t smart enough to get in. However, the Commonwealth Commitment may seek to change these attitudes. “The future of Massachusetts, from my perspective, runs through the University of Massachusetts,” Meehan said. “We educate the workforce.”

Looking forward, Meehan said some kind of consolidation between state universities and community colleges will be important. But, in the meantime, he and Gabrieli continue to advocate for Commonwealth Commitment with the goal of making higher education more accessible to Massachusetts students.

Learn more about college students struggling to balance jobs and school.