UMass posts record financial aid but faces long-term budget gap

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BOSTON — The University of Massachusetts spent more on student financial aid this academic year than ever before, thanks in part to the Legislature’s recent approval of supplemental funding for the university system.

UMass increased the amount it provides in student financial aid by $20 million this year, the university said, bringing the total to a record $255 million. Financial aid from all sources also reached a high point for the system at $835.5 million.

The Legislature’s inclusion of $10.9 million in contract assistance for UMass — which had been a point of contention last year — in a supplemental budget approved last week allowed the university to direct an additional $7 million in need-based aid, President Martin Meehan said.

“The state has made it clear that quality and affordability at UMass is a significant priority, and I commend Gov. Charlie Baker, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and all of our supporters in the Legislature for taking this action,” Meehan said in a statement.

At a meeting of the UMass trustees’ Committee on Administration and Finance on Wednesday, Meehan and UMass trustees reviewed the higher education system’s five-year financial forecast, which they acknowledged will necessitate additional work with state and federal lawmakers to chart a roadmap for predictability for all parties.

The forecast uses assumptions of state aid, enrollment and tuition levels to help the trustees better plan for the future needs of the five UMass campuses. The forecast that Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance Christine Wilda presented predicted a $559 million gap between the university’s current funding level and its predicted needs five years from now.

“This exercise should serve as an opportunity for all the parties — the chairman, the president, the chancellors, the governor, his administration, legislative leaders, and most importantly our students and their families — to work together to figure out how we can support all the things the university should be doing while holding tuition and fees at a reasonable level,” said James Buonomo, chairman of the committee.

Wilda led the committee through the outlook, which provided examples of the ways in which UMass could close the $559 million gap.

Assuming that state aid will grow by 2 percent annually, enrollment will rise 1.8 percent per year and that tuition for in- and out-of-state students will increase by 4 and 5 percent respectively, Wilda said the university system has identified $559,945,887 in expected additional revenues or cost savings that would bridge the gap.

“As you look at our fiscal 17 [funding request] and projections over the next five years, you see a similar pattern emerging that suggests we need to have serious conversations about what level of state support we can achieve to help maintain reasonable level of tuition and fees while also continuing the university’s plan to address deferred maintenance and advance student success initiatives,” Buonomo said.

— Written by Colin A. Young

Copyright State House News Service