Tuition hikes in offing at UMass Amherst

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst campus Courtesy photo

  • Students on the University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst. Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via AP

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

AMHERST — In what is likely to happen soon at other University of Massachusetts campuses, the UMass board of trustees on Wednesday approved a 3 percent increase in mandatory tuition and fees at UMass Medical School in Worcester.

That increase mirrors projected price hikes at the university system’s other campuses, including a proposed increase of 2.5 percent at UMass Amherst. At Wednesday’s board meeting, President Marty Meehan said the university hopes to keep tuition increases tied to inflation when the board votes at a special board meeting tentatively scheduled for July 13.

“President Meehan reaffirmed the university’s stated intention of holding any tuition increase to the historic rate of inflation in higher ed, and informed the Trustees that if expectations for state support hold, there would likely be a small increase of less than 3 percent recommended for the undergraduate campuses, with the intention of minimizing budget reductions and maintaining quality,” Jeff Cournoyer, a spokesman with the president's office, said in an email to the Gazette.

For in-state students at UMass Amherst, the current proposal in front of the board is to increase tuition and fees to $15,888; with room and board projected at $13,202, that brings the total estimate cost to be $29,090 — an increase of $476, according to university spokeswoman Mary Dettloff.

Out-of-state students face proposed costs of $34,570 for fees and tuition, and $13,202 for room and board, totaling $47,772.

Part of those increases include a $50 fee that students approved this past academic year for renovations to the Student Union building.

In addition to those costs, Honors College students will pay an additional fee of $600, College of Engineering face a $830 fee and Isenberg School of Management students will pay an extra $1,000 fee, according to the university’s website.

Those numbers will be finalized, however, at trustees’ July meeting. That later day allows the members to have additional clarity on what the state budget looks like, Cournoyer said. Currently, the state Senate and House are recommending $518.7 million for the UMass system.

“Even though the base appropriation appears settled, funding for the state share of collective bargaining is still unclear at this point,” Cournoyer said. “We are in active discussions regarding that piece.”

Costs driving increase

Dettloff said that there are several costs that are resulting in the tuition and fee increase.

“A lot of that is driven by some deferred maintenance projects on campus for academic buildings that we’ve put off in the past and that we’ve had to catch up on,” she said.

Other factors include faculty hiring, enhanced academic and career advising, and investments in physical and mental health services, Dettloff added.

She said the university works to keep costs down through avenues like energy efficiency, organizational restructuring, technological efficiencies and corporate partnerships. Those kinds of initiatives have saved the university around $44 million over the last five years, she said.

But, with state funding for UMass remaining largely stagnant while the number of students has grown, that financial gap is getting plugged with steps like tuition hikes and out-of-state enrollment. The state’s public higher education spending has dipped 14 percent since 2001 adjusted for inflation, according to statistics from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

On Wednesday, the board of trustees approved a 3-percent increase for yearly medical school tuition and fees, raising them to $37,776 for in-state students and $63,326 for out-of-state students.

In a statement to the Gazette, UMass Amherst spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said the university understands the priorities and “difficult budget choices” lawmakers have to make, and are grateful for the commitment of Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders to UMass. 

“In addition to the state appropriation, tuition is a major revenue component of the UMass Amherst budget, which supports a wide range of needs including faculty hires, academic and career advising, and debt service for new or improved academic buildings,” Blaguszewski said. “We would be unable to make investments to improve in these areas without additional revenues, which come in part from tuition increases.”

Disappointment in state

But not everyone feels that same gratitude to state leaders as Blaguszewski does.

“I think it’s massively disappointing, and students and families are already going into so much debt and paying so much out of pocket,” Zac Bears, the executive director of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, or PHENOM, said of cost increases at the state’s public colleges and universities.

Bears pointed to a recent study from the Wisconsin HOPE Lab that found more than one-third of university students and more than two-fifths of community college students in the state are food-insecure, and more than 10 percent are homeless.

“It’s incredibly disheartening to see not only Gov. Baker but also the state House of Representatives choose to cut finding for our public colleges and universities by not providing them with the finding increases that they need,” Bears said.

Making the funding picture seem more uncertain in the coming years is the fact that the state’s Supreme Judicial Court just struck down the so-called “millionaire’s tax” ballot question — an initiative that, if it had been on this year’s ballot and passed, could have raised an estimated $2 billion earmarked for transportation and education.

“Now the Statehouse can’t avoid the fact that they’re going to need to approve revenue increases,” Bears said. “Students and families cannot wait until next year, and they certainly can’t wait until 2022,” he added, referring to the earliest year that the question could be put back on the ballot.