UMass trustees vote to raise student charges second straight year

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STATE HOUSE — For the second consecutive year, University of Massachusetts students will face rising tuition costs as officials take steps to close an $85 million budget shortfall at a time of growing interest in public higher education.

The UMass Board of Trustees met in Worcester Thursday to consider tuition and fee increases, settling on a 5.8 percent tuition increase that will cost the average in-state undergraduate students $756 more in student charges before financial aid.

The new tuition rates, which were approved on a 11-2 vote after, come after a 5 percent increase in tuition last year. With fixed costs at the university rising, the state’s fiscal 2017 budget signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last week provided for a slight decrease of less than 1 percent in taxpayer financial support.

“I believe that in following this course, we will be preserving the quality that the citizens of the Commonwealth need and expect,” President Marty Meehan said in a statement after the meeting. He added, “We will do everything we can to protect students and families with need via financial aid.”

The university said the rate of rising student charges would decrease to 3.2 percent after factoring in the increase in financial aid. Of the $30.3 million in revenue projected to be generated by higher charges, one quarter – or $7.5 million – will be redirected into financial aid, officials said.

Undergraduate in-state tuition across the system will now average $13,862 for the 2016-2017 school year, with the $14,590 price tag at UMass Amherst the most costly and tuition at UMass Dartmouth coming in the lowest at $12.783. UMass Lowell tuition will rise to $13,932 and UMass Boston students will pay $13,110.

Explaining to interns how Massachusetts has had to capitalize on its higher education institutions to drive the economy, former Senate President Therese Murray said Thursday she was “disappointed” to see the University of Massachusetts and other state universities raising tuition and fees for the second straight year.

Without a sector like the oil or gas industry to drive growth, Murray told the interns in Boston, “Our best natural resource is an educated workforce and that’s where you all come in.” In her post-legislative life, Murray works with international companies to establish a beachhead in the United States and Massachusetts. She told the students “many companies want your brains.”

The discussion of the importance of higher education led Murray to criticize the leaders of public universities for not doing more to keep costs low.

“A little disappointed in the fact that tuition is going to be raised again in public universities. That’s disappointing to me because I thought when we got tuition remission, when we gave that to the universities, that they would use that money and steward that money to keep the tuition lower,” Murray said.

The Legislature last year approved tuition retention for all public universities, allowing the campuses to keep the tuition they collect from students rather than return it to the state and seek an appropriation through the general budget process.

At schools like UMass, fees are also typically much higher than tuition expenses. “The fees you can’t even finance, so that’s a big pet peeve of mine, but I’m not in government anymore so someone’s going to have to carry that,” Murray said.

The Senate on Thursday rejected an amendment to an economic development bill aimed at holding increases in student charges at public higher education institutions to no more than the growth in inflation. Sens. Michael Rodrigues and Mark Montigny spoke in favor of that amendment, expressing deep concerns about putting public higher education out of reach for those who are not wealthy.

The UMass administration is also taking steps to save $28 million through staff reductions, hiring freezes and other personnel moves, and said an administrative restructuring could save another $15 million.

— Written by Matt Murphy

Copyright State House News Service