What is MASSPIRG?
Massachusetts Student Public Interest Research Group
We’re a statewide, non-partisan, student-advocacy organization with chapters on college campuses across the state. For nearly 50 years we’ve run campaigns to protect the environment and public health, alleviate poverty, make college more affordable, and strengthen our democracy.
What does MASSPIRG do?
We operate on college campuses across the state to run campaigns on issues to win concrete reforms on behalf of the public interest. This can take a variety of forms, but usually involves advocates working directly with decision makers in Boston or Washington DC, along with students and organizers working in communities to build and demonstrate public support for concrete solutions. Through that, we get results.
For example, the MASSPIRG Chapters helped to pass the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2008 which set the highest standards for reducing global warming emissions in the entire country. Building off of this landmark victory to tackle the climate crises we launched the 100% renewable energy campaign in 2016 and have successfully signed on over a majority of legislators to endorse the bill in the last few years.
At the national level, our professional advocates in D.C. helped prevent a proposed $2.6 billion cut to Pell Grant funding in 2018, protecting the ability for thousands of students to afford a college education and are currently working to double Pell grant funding in the 2021 federal budget.
In January of 2021, our advocacy and organizing efforts resulted in the passage of the Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights, which will protect the 855,500 students who have had to take out loans to pay for college from unfair and deceptive lending practices by loan servicing companies.
Read more about our recent victories here.
What are the priorities for the next few years?
There are constantly attacks on laws that protect our environment or consumers; and unfortunately those bringing the attacks have a lot of money and influence. MASSPIRG is working both on a state and federal level to protect good laws that are on the books so that we don’t roll back decades of progress that has been made. But we’re not just playing defense.
We’re working to commit our state and college campuses to 100% clean and renewable energy, and get to zero waste by phasing out single use plastics like plastic bags. We’re working on new ways to make higher education affordable by advocating for increased state and federal funds for open educational resources as well as decreased interest rates on student loans. On top of all that, we’re working to alleviate hunger and homelessness on campus and in our community.
In these unprecedented times, dealing with a global pandemic and an economic crisis related to COVID-19, we’re also continuing our efforts to protect public health by advocating for more COVID-relief at the federal and state level, and increased resources for testing, PPE and vaccination awareness.
Lastly, we know that students will have a more powerful voice if they are involved and engaged in politics. So, every election cycle, we run our nonpartisan New Voters Project that has helped to register over 45,000 students in the past 15 years here in MA and increased turnout at student-heavy polling locations from 2014 to 2018 by 50-80% across MA. Even in 2020, when we were required to adapt all of our organizing efforts to be virtual rather than in person due to the pandemic, we were still able to make 50,000 youth voter contacts and recruited, trained, and mobilized over 400 student volunteers to participate in this campaign. This contributed to the historic youth voter turnout across the country.
We plan to take what we’ve learned during our virtual times back into in-person organizing in the coming years to continue working on all of these priority issues.
How is MASSPIRG funded?
Students on our funded campuses vote to fund MASSPIRG through a $9-$11 per student per semester waivable fee. Students pool their resources together statewide with other MASSPIRG chapters to hire staff, such as advocates, lobbyists, and organizers, to work with students on issues that they care about.
Why does MASSPIRG hire staff?
The problems that MASSPIRG tackles are large, statewide, and often national in scope. Our goals are not simply for students to “make their voices heard” on these issues, but to win concrete reforms that improve people’s lives. In order to make real, substantial change, we need organization and resources. Staff are an important part of having an effective statewide organization. They bring expertise to student’s ideas and continuity to long term student campaigns.
Why does MASSPIRG work statewide?
The problems that people on campus face do not only occur on campus. In order to clean up our waterways, transition off of fossil fuels, protect pell grant funding or lower textbook prices our staff need to go to the decision makers all across the state and in Washington D.C. With statewide grassroots support as well as our staff tackling problems from Boston to the Berkshires, we are able to take on the special interests that create these problems and actually win reforms that positively impact many citizens, as well as students. That’s why our funding is pooled with chapters across the state and allocated in a way that will make the biggest impact on the issues that affect the public interest.
How do students have control over MASSPIRG funding?
There are multiple levels of student-involvement in the funding that a MASSPIRG organization and chapter receives. First, students vote to fund their own advocacy group through a campus-wide vote. Every student has the opportunity to weigh in on that decision when we voluntarily run a reaffirmation of that vote every few years. Second, students in the chapter (or “core group”) at a local campus make decisions about what to prioritize, how to run the campaigns, and, thus, how to spend student fees at the local level. Any student who pays the MASSPIRG fee and has attended at least 1 core meeting in the past has the ability to vote and weigh-in on these decisions. Lastly, at the statewide level, MASSPIRG is governed by a student Board of Directors made up of students from funded chapters who are elected by their local core group. These students on the Board of Directors weigh-in on and decide the priorities, campaigns, and, thus, the funding at a statewide level. All campaign and funding decisions are also made based on a set of criteria and principles that help MASSPIRG stay true to its mission so we can withstand any one-campaign or decision and continue to exist for the long haul.
How do students in each chapter decide what issues to work on?
Students decide on the campaigns that they want to work on both locally and at the statewide level. This process happens at the end of each semester or when campaigns and issues arise that fit into MASSPIRG’s criteria and mission. Students can bring campaign ideas to their local chapter, and then to the statewide board, where students from different chapters get together and make decisions on what we work on across the state.
Why go to the ballot?
Students on campuses vote to fund MASSPIRG to reaffirm student support for the work that we do. The mandate from the student community says that students support MASSPIRG and the work we do, and as a community have decided to give us the resources to carry on this work on their behalf. Every 2-3 years we run a campus-wide fee education drive that allows students at every chapter campus to weigh in on this decision. This is often one of the only opportunities for the entire student body to vote on a fee or any part of their tuition while they’re on campus. We voluntarily run a vote to hold ourselves accountable to the student body and demonstrate that the student body at large supports this community decision.