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UMass leaders ask lawmakers for more money

“UMass literally educates the work force of the commonwealth,” Marty Meehan, chancellor of UMass-Lowell and a former congressman, told the lawmakers, making a case that additional funding would pay off in more highly trained job seekers in the state.

According to Meehan, 66 percent of graduating UMass students remain within state borders.

The UMass system receives around 43 percent of its education funding from the state; the other 57 percent comes from tuition and fees. The request for more state monies would bring back the 50/50 ratio last seen in 2008.

The 50/50 model would increase state annual funding by $50 million for each of the next two years, bringing the current figure up from $516 million to $566 million. The $684 million currently paid by students would fall, allowing Caret to act on his pledge to freeze increases in tuition and fees.

In-state UMass-Amherst students already pay an estimated $13,230 per year in tuition, with an added $9,937 for room and board. That figure is a 4.9 percent fee increase, about $580 more per student, over the 2011-12 academic year.

Bob Connolly, a spokesman for UMass, said in an interview that the state’s share of funding for the UMass system has steadily fallen over the past decade from 57 percent 10 years ago to the current 43 percent as the Legislature tried to pay for rising costs of welfare, Medicaid, and the residual costs associated with Boston’s Big Dig.

Connolly said UMass schools have increased their student count from 58,000 to 78,000 over a decade to balance the cuts with additional tuition. Without additional state funding, the tuition and fees could rise again.

“Extending the financial burden on those families is something that can’t and should not go on,” Connolly said.

The educators touted the university’s successes to the lawmakers, citing the U.S. News and World Report ranking of UMass-Amherst as the 42nd best public school out of the 115 in the country and naming UMass-Worcester the 48th best research school and the seventh best primary care university hospital.

Michael Collins, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, said nearly 60 percent of graduating doctors practice medicine in Massachusetts.

“The funding you provide us is critical,” Collins said, “Your medical school has an impact on this commonwealth.”

The university officials’ pitch led Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D–Lenox, to wonder if their portrayal of success was working against them. He wondered if the state would do better to send extra money to public schools to prepare students for college.

“(UMass schools) are doing more with less,” he said. “The 50/50 goal is a far reach and realistically we have to step up to the plate here, but you have to stress the importance of this (funding) more.”

But Collins said schools such as UMass-Worcester already give hundreds of thousands of dollars to surrounding public schools to aid the Science Technology Engineering Math system.

Although the state universities are “in much better shape,” Collins said, “there’s a lot left to do.”

Cole Chapman writes for the Statehouse program at Boston University.

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