UMass student group denounces proposed out-of-state tuition, fee increases

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst campus GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/12/2021 6:39:31 PM

AMHERST — A student-led group at the University of Massachusetts is objecting to a proposed increase in tuition for out-of-state students, as well as rising room and board fees for all students, that will be considered by the UMass board of trustees this week.

The UMass-Amherst Debt-Free Future Campaign is writing letters to trustees and administrators in advance of the Wednesday morning meeting in which action will be taken on a recommendation from the trustees’ Administration and Finance Committee. That recommendation is for approving adding $537 to the $17,889.50 out-of-state tuition per semester and $266 to all room-and-board plans each semester.

“This increase in tuition and fees is extremely harmful to students, especially in the middle of a pandemic, and we are hoping to bring as much attention to it as possible,” Sonya Epstein, a member of the campaign and former Student Government Association president, wrote in an email.

In March, UMass President Marty Meehan announced a recommendation that the trustees freeze tuition for in-state undergraduates for the academic year beginning in September.

“To lessen the financial burden on our students and their families, many of whom have suffered from job losses, business closures and other impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, I intend to recommend to the UMass board of trustees that we freeze tuition for in-state undergraduate students for the second consecutive year,” he said at the time, citing both the money coming from the American Rescue Plan and actions taken by the state Legislature and administration of Gov. Charlie Baker.

Before financial aid is factored in, the average in-state undergraduate tuition for the UMass system is $14,722, less than the $19,062 at the University of Vermont, $18,938 at the University of New Hampshire, $17,834 at the University of Connecticut and the $15,004 at the University of Rhode Island. In New England, only the University of Maine, at $11,712, is cheaper to attend for in-state students.

At the Amherst campus, the tuition and fees for in-state residents is $15,791 for the full semester, while out-of-staters pay $35,779. There are 22,660 undergraduates at UMass Amherst, of whom 78% are in-state students, according to the university’s Admissions Office.

John Hoey, a spokesman for the UMass president’s office, said institutional financial aid financed by UMass has gone up by almost 50% over the past five years, to $352 million.

“The net cost of a UMass education for Massachusetts residents is lower and in line with the other New England public universities and far below that of private institutions,” Hoey said.

In addition, the proposed 1.5% increase in out-of-state student tuition amounts to less than inflation.

Room and board for all students at the Amherst campus for the full year is $14,147. Any increase, Hoey said, is a function of an auxiliary service that, because it is not subsidized by the state appropriation, has to pay for itself.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the reduced on-campus student population for health and safety reasons, the UMass system is projecting that it will have lost $230 million, or 52% in auxiliary revenue, from housing and dining alone in fiscal year 2021.

The Debt-Free Future Campaign, though, notes that students have been forced to drop out of school and are being pushed into situations of housing and food insecurity every year due to tuition and fee raises. In a statement, the campaign describes the increases as a “harmful proposal” that will force students to work additional hours, skip meals or possibly drop out.

“We cannot allow students to experience additional trauma and financial insecurities on top of what they are already facing due to the pandemic” stated the Debt-Free Future Campaign.

In the recommendation coming to trustees, student trustee Timothy Scalona, a graduate student in public policy, cast a vote against the proposal.

Scalona said the cumulative effects of the cost increases over time hinder the financial stability of current students and disincentivize low-income applicants.

“UMass Amherst is the only campus to propose raising the tuition increases on students, specifically out-of-state students,” Scalona said. “While the UMass system is constrained by the failure of the state to adequately fund higher education, I cannot vote for this proposal as the student representative and I wish some of the trustees took an active role in lobbying for increased higher ed funding.”

The Debt-Free Future Campaign also calls out the state for what it views as disinvesting, claiming the average UMass Amherst student graduates with $32,000 of debt and that 25% of the student population faces food insecurity.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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