Meehan refutes report critical of UMass aid policies

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BOSTON — Bristling at a report that the University of Massachusetts sent more merit scholarship dollars to out-of-state students, university officials on Wednesday said no taxpayer money goes to out-of-state students and encouraged analysis of the positive tuition impacts involved with recruiting out-of-state students.

The Boston Globe on Sunday reported UMass awarded $22 million in merit scholarships to out-of-state students in 2015 compared to $9.9 million for in-state students. “Why should the taxpayers be paying to provide scholarships to out-of-state students?” Greg Sullivan, research director at the Pioneer Institute, asked the Globe.

UMass President Martin Meehan, UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, UMass Committee on Academic and Student Affairs Chairwoman Alyce Lee, and Larry Carpman, a UMass board member and Democratic political operative, all reacted to the report, defending the school at a committee meeting on Wednesday.

“There’s no state taxpayer money that goes to out-of-state students. There are discounts that are offered,” Meehan said. He said, “What I find unfortunate about this is I think Greg knows that’s the case.”

In a statement Wednesday, Sullivan said UMass spends an average of more than $33,000 per student, according to the school’s annual financial report, and the sticker-price for out-of-state students is already below that. Citing the Globe’s reporting that the average merit-based aid for 59 percent of out-of-state students is $7,600, Sullivan said, “State taxpayers are subsidizing the cost of out-of-state students, including tuition discounts.”

In addition to tuition and fees paid by students, UMass receives substantial funding each year through the annual state budget. This year $654 million in state dollars “were used to fill the gap between tuition and expenses at UMass,” Sullivan said.

Costs vary across the five UMass campuses. With room and board included in addition to tuition and fees, the cost for non-residents attending UMass Amherst totals $42,007, according to UMass, which lists those costs for Bay Staters at $25,674. Without housings costs, tuition and fees for Bay Staters at UMass Dartmouth total $12,588 while out-of-staters pay $26,173, according to a university fact sheet.

Sullivan’s critique of state benefits going to out-of-state students follows the same vein as a Pioneer Institute report in May that questioned the university’s 84.5 percent increase in out-of-state students between 2008 and 2014 while in-state enrollment rose 19 percent.

“In 2015-16, UMass-Amherst crossed an imaginary Rubicon when it accepted more out-of-state than in-state students, and they did it in a year when in-state applications were at a high point,” Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios said in a statement. “We have to have some hard conversations about the purpose of and strategy for UMass as a public institution.”

Keying off the institute’s stated mission to promote among other things, “limited” government, Carpman suggested Pioneer favors limits on UMass students.

“Clearly there has to be some parameters, yes,” Carpman said when asked if he thought government should be limited. “But the thrust of that study seemed to imply that we couldn’t dream, that the students had to have a limit to what they could attain because that’s the level of what UMass should be, and I just respectfully disagree with that.”

Carpman asked for data on how in-state tuitions would be affected “if we slash out-of-state acceptance.”

Meehan said out-of-state students represent a “significant” net benefit in revenues for the university, which retains the revenue it receives from in-state and out-of-state students. He said UMass operates similar to a private enterprise, with about 17 percent of funding for the $3.1 billion system coming from the state, and said Pioneer was seeking to protect private universities.

“There’s a real consensus here that we reject the notion that UMass can’t be great,” Meehan told the News Service. He said, “The Pioneer Institute report has galvanized all of the UMass campuses to continue to strive, to get even better.”

Saying she was “very emotional” because two of her four girls graduated from college over the past year, Lee, who was first-generation college graduate herself, had a personal question for anyone who thinks the bar should be set lower for UMass.

“This university cannot say that our kids are somehow going to operate at a lower level, or have lower expectations, or lower resources for any reason,” Lee said. “And the people who believe they should? We should ask them what they do with their children, and what their hopes and dreams are for them and why they should be any different for us?”

UMass spokesman Robert Connolly said Pioneer’s perceived prioritization of private schools over UMass has made “a number of people from the UMass community irate that they’re criticizing us for having become too good and so good that we’re now a headache for colleges and universities that want to charge more and deliver less.”

Conversely, UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said he is “grateful” to Pioneer for drawing attention to UMass’s status as a “world-class university.”

Written by Andy Metzger