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uAspire's Exec Director Offers a Quick Lesson on Impact of Higher Ed Costs

May 19, 2017
By Joe Halpern

uAspire's Exec Director Offers a Quick Lesson on Impact of Higher Ed Costs

Gabrielle King Morse
Title: Executive director for uAspire Massachusetts
Age: 47
Education: ActonMBA, Babson College; B.A., Russian Studies and International Relations, Cornell University
Residence: Acton

Gabrielle King Morse is the Massachusetts executive director of uAspire (formerly known as ACCESS), a Boston-based nonprofit that works to ensure that young people have the financial information and resources necessary to find an affordable path to – and through – a postsecondary education. Boston Business Journal’s Joe Halpern recently sat down with Morse to hear uAspire’s take on rising college costs and student debt and their impact on Massachusetts.

What does uAspire consider the biggest challenge Massachusetts faces when it comes to the rising cost of a higher education?

In Massachusetts one of our biggest challenges is that we have not invested enough in our state institutions and what I mean by that is there aren’t as many lower cost options (for college students) as we probably would like to have in our state. We are tremendous with our private institutions, we have always been, and we are really proud of that, but now we’re finding that that’s not going to be the solution for a growing lower income population that doesn’t have a college degree and is trying to figure out how to finance it.

Your nonprofit is working with Attorney General Maura Healey’s office on the student debt crisis. What exactly does that partnership look like?

Maura Healy has a number of different groups looking at different angles of this issue. The particular project that we are working with her on is focused on transparency of information, and getting the right information to students and families on how to read the financial reward letters that colleges send that are in many cases very hard to compare and fully understand. What we’re doing is providing content (for the state website) about how to really look at these letters, how to understand what all these terms mean and how to get to the bottom of what is the actual cost of college. It can be confusing for students to understand what exactly they are getting that is actually free money that they don’t need to pay back.

What should a student from a low income area choose to do? Is it to start off at a two-year or a four-year schools?

We are not about everyone should be heading to college and getting a four-year degree. What we’re about it is what do you, the student, want to do (with your career) and what do you need to do to get there? We help students understand their options and what is the best investment they should make of time and resources to get there.

What are you hearing from the Boston business community about the student debt crisis and how best to solve it? What are they telling you?

The corporate community really cares about this issue. It’s a pain point for them more than any other group. If they are going to stay in the state and continue to grow and be vibrant it’s going to because of the kids who grow up in the state and want to stay here to work. If they don’t get educated there will be a smaller pool of people to hire.

The real issue that’s hurting our economy is the people who are not graduating from college. They leave school because of financial problems and they can’t get rid of that debt. It stops them in so many different ways, including furthering their education, and that’s the piece we really have to dive in to.

In a perfect world where you can change the system, what would uAspire like to see done about rising college costs and student debt?

Some of the things we can do right now is like what we’re doing with the Attorney General’s office —getting the information out there so people understand the financial package they are being offered if they go to a two-year college what courses they have to take so they can transfer to that four-year college.

In the long term I really believe that that there is not enough accountability for a student getting a college degree, yet it has impact on all of us when a student doesn’t get a college degree. You have lower tax base. We don’t have as many people to hire. There are so many things. So I think it’s going to be about creating the accountability. And it can’t all be on the colleges.

What is one of uAspire’s biggest initiatives for 2017?

Here is something that’s very interesting. We work in six cities at this time, but nationally we’re really exploring using texting technology to connect with students. We did a project with the Harvard School of Education and the college board and it looked at how we can we really impact students just by texting them. We’re going to get the results of that work relatively soon. Just imagine if we had an impact on them actually making it into college. All of sudden we have the opportunity to suddenly change the college affordability game.