Massachusetts Sees Upturn in Enrollment Due to New Free Tuition Policy


In a surprising twist, the fall semester of 2023 witnessed a notable surge in undergraduate enrollment across Massachusetts public colleges and universities.

The latest data from the Department of Higher Education indicates a 2.9% increase in total undergraduate enrollment, reaching 152,739 students compared to the fall of 2022. This marks a significant milestone as it breaks a decade-long trend of declining enrollment.

 Massachusetts Sees Upturn in Enrollment Due to New Free Tuition Policy
(Photo : UNSPLASH / Priscilla Du Preez)

Uneven Growth Across Institutions

While the overall trend is positive, the growth was not uniform across all institutions. The data reveals a 1% decrease in undergraduate enrollment at UMass campuses and a 0.6% drop at state universities compared to the previous year. However, officials emphasize that the decline at state universities was less pronounced than in recent years. The standout contributor to the overall positive trend was a remarkable 8% increase in enrollment at community colleges, demonstrating their pivotal role in reshaping the higher education landscape.

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Community Colleges Lead the Way in Affordability

The surge in community college enrollment can be attributed to the state's commitment to making higher education more affordable. Lawmakers and Governor Maura Healey allocated $20 million in the fiscal year 2024 state budget to cover any unmet costs for students aged 25 and older without a college degree. This targeted financial support aligns with a broader effort to expand access to higher education and alleviate the financial burden on a specific demographic.

An Exciting Turn of the Leadership Perspectives

Governor Healey expressed her excitement at the enrollment data, stating that it supports the ongoing efforts to make higher education more accessible. Education Secretary Patrick Tutwiler sees this positive trend as a significant turn of the tide in enrollment at public higher education institutions, bringing new perspectives, energy, and skills to campuses, communities, and the state as a whole.

Overcoming a Decade of Challenges

The recent enrollment boost comes after nearly a decade of declining numbers, influenced by demographic changes and students' hesitance to take on the increasing costs of earning a degree. While the fall 2023 enrollment marks a positive shift, it is essential to note that it is still approximately 44,000 students, or 22%, below the enrollment in the fall of 2013 when the upward trend was last observed.

Officials have promised to release more detailed data early next year, shedding light on demographic factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, and age that may have influenced enrollment. Additionally, they plan to provide insights into the impact of programs like MassReconnect on enrollment in 2024, offering a more nuanced understanding of the evolving student landscape.

Higher Education Commissioner Noe Ortega emphasizes that while the enrollment report is good news, it represents only the first step. The department remains committed to ensuring that all students who enroll in college successfully complete their education, with postsecondary success serving as the guiding principle.


As the state celebrates this positive development in higher education, advocates for further investment in the sector have launched a new campaign in support of the CHERISH Act. This legislation aims to provide debt-free higher education starting in fiscal year 2024, beginning with community colleges. The act also seeks to ensure state health care and retirement benefits for adjunct faculty and part-time staff, institute minimum funding levels for public higher education, and prevent tuition and fee increases during the implementation period.

Professors Advocate for Affordable Education

Advertisements supporting the CHERISH Act have started airing, featuring professors from Massachusetts' public colleges and universities explaining how the provisions in the bill would benefit both students and faculty. The campaign, sponsored by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, underscores the urgency and importance of addressing the high cost of college and ensuring that students have access to debt-free higher education opportunities.

The recent surge in community college enrollment in Massachusetts is a positive signal for the state's higher education landscape. As policymakers, educators, and advocates continue their efforts to make education more affordable and accessible, the focus remains on ensuring the success of all students who enroll in college. The ongoing campaign for the CHERISH Act reflects a broader commitment to securing a sustainable and inclusive future for higher education in the state. The subheading approach highlights the key aspects of the article, providing a structured and comprehensive overview.

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