UMass president now forecasting larger tuition and fee increases

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STATE HOUSE — University of Massachusetts students working this summer to pay for college could face a higher financial mountain to climb in the fall.

After freezing tuition for two straight years and then increasing it 5 percent last year, UMass appears poised to raise tuition and fees by rates that far exceed growth in inflation and personal income.

According to UMass President Marty Meehan, tuition and fees across the five-campus university system could grow by between 5 percent and 8 percent.

“I think it’s going to look about the same as it is for the state universities,” Meehan told Boston Herald Radio on Friday, a day after House and Senate fiscal 2017 budget negotiators recommended the lower of two potential UMass appropriations, which strongly influence university finances and student bills.

Meehan told members of the House and Senate Ways and Means committees in February that UMass officials “would like very much to keep tuition increases to no more than inflation.” In May he predicted a “reasonable” increase. But barring an unforeseeable development, a larger increase appears likely.

On Friday, Meehan said state universities had set tuition and fees for the fall, with Bridgewater State University agreeing to a 7.8 percent increase and students at Salem State University and Westfield State University facing 5.2 percent increases in attendance costs.

“My guess is that we’ll be somewhere in that same range,” said Meehan.

Gov. Charlie Baker is reviewing the $39.15 billion state budget and will send back portions of it with vetoes and amendments, but may not add spending to the bill.

According to Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka, the budget accord reached last Wednesday between House and Senate negotiators funded UMass at $508.3 million, or $539.4 million when adjusted for tuition retention, representing a 1.4 percent increase.

The appropriation was consistent with what had been proposed by Baker in January and approved by the House in April, but fell short of the $521.3 million passed by the Senate in its May version of the budget. It is also well below the $564.9 million UMass officials requested from legislative budget writers.

Meehan said he would prefer to keep tuition and fees as low as possible, but said more students and families are choosing UMass “because of the value in the price point” compared to private colleges and universities. Applications to UMass have quadrupled in the past four or five years, he said.

The UMass Board of Trustees is expected to take up tuition and fees at a July 14 meeting. Meehan said tuition and fee increases could vary by campus, with leeway afforded to campus chancellors. “We want to make sure that they end the year in good financial shape,” he said.

Baker and House leaders this session resisted any tax increases, while Senate leaders expressed interest in raising taxes to boost government revenues. When lawmakers realized in the spring that tax revenues would not reach the benchmarks they agreed to over the winter, they scaled back proposed investments and pieced together one-time budget maneuvers to come up with a balanced budget.

After initially projecting revenues to climb in fiscal 2017 by 4.3 percent, the compromise state budget lowers expectations to 2.7 percent revenue growth, or $677 million. Spending under the plan would climb by $650.3 million, or 1.7 percent, over estimated fiscal 2016 levels.

— Written by Michael P. Norton

Copyright State House News Service