In Job Interview, Glenn Blames Shift From Public to Private for High Student Loan Debt

Northern Essex Community College President Lane A. Glenn kicks off the #MyCommunityCollege campaign in 2019. (Courtesy photograph.)

Northern Essex Community College President Lane A. Glenn’s interview Thursday before the state Board of Higher Education touched on the topical subject of student loan debt.

The discussion came a day after President Joe Biden said he plans to provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the Department of Education, and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients. Glenn, who is one of four finalists vying for the job of Massachusetts higher education commissioner, said declining public funding for colleges and universities brought on the problem.

“Over decades, we’ve shifted from this notion of public higher education as a common good to public higher education as a private good, and in the process, we’ve shifted the burden of paying for it from the public to the individual,” Glenn said. “However you feel about that, that’s what has happened, what has led us to soaring student loan debts and things like that.”

Glenn said he is proud of his tenure leading the community college with campuses in Haverhill and Lawrence, particularly its focus on serving Hispanic and Latino students.

“Massachusetts has one of the worst Hispanic-white college attainment rate gaps in the nation. Northern Essex Community College has one of the highest proportions of Hispanic students at any college in Massachusetts,” he said. “That population is growing at a time when most other demographics are not. Therefore, we as an institution are uniquely positioned to close that gap and help more residents of the Commonwealth prepare themselves for a prosperous future.”

He said individual campuses need to retain the “autonomy they need to fundraise” and work with foundations or other partners, while warning that performance-based funding models to steer dollars to colleges and universities could harm students.

Glenn and Boston University Wheelock College’s Mary Churchill have roots in the Bay State, while the other finalists are former Pennsylvania Education Secretary Noe Ortega and California Community College official Marty Alvarado.

Over a nearly six-hour stretch of interviews, the Board of Higher Education sought to learn more about the four finalists for the top public higher education job in the state and assess their professional experiences, top priorities and potential fit in the world of Massachusetts colleges and universities.

Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago announced in January he planned to step down. He projected an end-of-June departure from the job that pays him a $243,734 yearly salary, but Board of Higher Education Chair Chris Gabrieli has said Santiago is open to remaining on to assist with the transition to a new commissioner.

The board plans to vote on Aug. 30 to recommend its preference for the next leader.

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