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Higher Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Higher Education Initiative

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Governor Mitt Romney's Higher Education Record

Published:  November 5, 2012
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Photo licensed CC by Gage Skidmore.

Last week we highlighted President Barack Obama’s higher education hits and misses during his time in office. With the presidential election fast approaching, we thought it would only be fair to take a look at Mitt Romney’s higher education record during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts.

Even though the candidates mentioned very little about higher education during the debates, Governor Romney’s record in Massachusetts provides some insight into how higher education might fare under a Romney presidency:

  1. Not afraid to cut higher education: When Romney took office Massachusetts was facing a $600 million budget gap in addition to a potential $3 billion dollar deficit.  Within weeks of taking office, Romney instituted a package of emergency budget measures that cut $12 million from the $1 billion higher education budget. And Romney continued to slash the budget during his years in office—between 2001 (when his predecessor was in office) and 2005, Massachusetts saw a reduction of 33 percent in state spending. While Romney has touted throughout the presidential campaign that Massachusetts has the best public k-12 education system in the nation, under his watch, Massachusetts ranked 49th in the nation in higher education spending, spending more money on prisons than on higher education.
  2. No sympathy for DREAMers: A proposal to provide in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants drew sharp criticism from Romney, even though a study by the Boston Redevelopment Authority showed that the policy would be an economic boon to Massachusetts. Romney argued that it would reward illegal activity and cost the state millions of dollars it would have received from these students via out-of-state tuition and fees.
  3. Strongly supported merit aid: Governor Romney proposed the John and Abigail Adams scholarship to provide free tuition at public colleges and universities for the state’s the top 25 percent of MCAS test-takers. Since fees outpace tuition in Massachusetts, the original proposal also allowed for a $2,000 annual bonus to help cover fees for those scoring in the top 10 percent. The House budget dropped the proposal over fears that the scholarships would overly benefit well-off students. Romney eventually got it to pass by going straight to the Board of Education, and changing the proposal strictly to a tuition waiver. One year later, there was already indication that the scholarship was not well-targeted: Only 3 percent of winners were black compared to 9 percent statewide; only 2 percent Hispanic compared to 8 percent; and only 8 percent qualified for free and reduced price lunch compared to 18 percent. Recently, Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School released a study that showed students who use the scholarship take longer to graduate and are less likely to graduate at all.

Stay tuned for Higher Ed Watch’s post-election analysis. In the meantime, don’t forget to vote!


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