When I was governor of Massachusetts, to get a high school degree you had to pass an exam. If you graduated in the top quarter of your class, we gave you a John and Abigail Adams scholarship—four years tuition-free to the college of your choice in Massachusetts that's a public institution.Four years tuition-free. You'd think that would be game, set, match—now these kids can afford college. But that's not the way it works in Massachusetts, and Romney knows this. At Massachusetts public colleges and universities, fees are much higher than tuition. Under Romney, those fees went up dramatically just as so many other fees did. He was planning to run for president, for Pete's sake, he couldn't admit he was raising tuition and taxes.
Here's the reality (PDF): At the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, when the John and Abigail Adams scholarship was established in 2004, tuition was $1,714. That's how much it was in 1999, and that's how much it is this year. Fees, on the other hand, were $7,294 in 2004-2005 (up from $6,518 in 2003-2004, the year Romney took office, and a sharp increase from the $4,768 the year before he took office). The year Romney left office, fees were $7,881. That means that the scholarship program Romney is so proud of, the one he mentioned in the very first minutes of the debate, covered 19 percent of college costs the year it was established, and 17.8 percent the year he left office. And that's not even talking about room and board.
It's not just UMass-Amherst, the flagship of the state system, either. Berkshire Community College? Tuition was and is frozen at $780. Fees went from $2,610 to $2,896. So the Adams scholarship went from covering 23 percent of costs to covering 21.2 percent of costs during Romney's tenure. Bridgewater State University? Tuition stayed at $910, while fees went from $4,416 to $4,956. The Adams scholarship dropped from 17 percent of costs to 15.5 percent. Again, not counting room and board.
That's not the only way the program fails students:
But research into the Adams Scholarship and the 12 others like it across the country suggests that these programs do little to improve college access because they typically go to students who already plan to attend college. If anything, these researchers say, the scholarships can widen existing income and racial gaps in college attendance.This scholarship program is the crux of Mitt Romney's argument for himself on college costs. It's the only concrete thing he said about his own record in his discussion of helping young people afford college and get jobs. And it is so much less than advertised—maybe not quite a total sham, but damn close.
A study released this summer by Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government found that Massachusetts students were likely to use the scholarship to attend a state school with fewer resources than private schools they might have gone to otherwise. The result? Students who use the scholarship actually take longer to graduate—and they are less likely to graduate at all.