UMass tuition to increase again this year

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) campus

Published: 6/30/2016 9:37:11 PM

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts will increase tuition for the second year in a row because the state is providing less money than the university requested, spokesman Robert P. Connolly said Thursday.

Tuition bills and payments will also be delayed slightly this summer, UMass students were informed by email Thursday. Also, the tuition increase will not be spread evenly across the five university campuses.

The UMass board of trustees will vote July 14 on tuition rates for the coming academic year, Connolly said. The board typically votes in June, but delayed the decision until the state budget for the fiscal year beginning Friday was released.

“There will definitely be a tuition increase when the board meets July 14,” Connolly said. “Following some dire news about state finances, UMass, like many state-related agencies, has fared less well than hoped for.”

It is “too early to tell” what the increase will be for students, Connolly said.

UMass Amherst announced in an email to students Thursday that tuition bills will be released later than usual this year because of the July 14 vote. Students can expect to receive their bills at the end of July, and payment will be due Aug. 19 according to Estra Kotorobay of the UMass Amherst bursar’s office.

The university typically bills students on July 15 and requires payment by Aug. 10, Kotorobay said.

According to Connolly, the legislative conference committee working on a final version of the state budget recently announced it will appropriate $508 million to the university for the new fiscal year. The appropriation, up 1.5 percent from the year which ended Thursday, is $88 million less than the initial $596 million the university requested.

Student reaction

Tyler O’Day, the secretary of public relations for the UMass Amherst Student Government Association said by telephone Thursday night he is disappointed by the tuition increase, but he does not place the blame on the university.

“I’m disappointed that the state is not willing to put more money into something that drives the economy of the commonwealth of Massachusetts,” O’Day said. “I have confidence in the current (university) administration that they are doing everything they can. But if the state is not willing to meet them halfway, that’s a serious issue.” 

O’Day blamed the state’s antiquated tax system for being unable to raise enough money to sustain the university and keep it affordable for students. 

“There is a limit to how far people are willing to pull out loans for public education … in an ideal world there would be free college, but until we get to that point we need to talk about keeping it affordable,” he said.

Another 5 percent increase in tuition would cost students about $1,500 in the coming academic year, O’Day said. For college students working full-time, minimum-wage jobs making $10 an hour in the summer,that means they need to work for another 2 ½ weeks to cover the cost increase.

“It isn’t feasible. This does not work for working kids from working-class families in the state that are already doing everything they can,” O’Day said.

According to O’Day, student government representatives from UMass Amherst are working to reach out to legislators about changing the tax system and appropriating more funds to higher education.

Student Government Association President Anthony Vitale echoed O’Day’s concerns by telephone Thursday night, saying he is also disappointed with the state budget.

The university is not to blame, Vitale said, because it does not have a voice on the legislative conference committee that decides the budget appropriation.

“I think it’s been a bipartisan attack on public higher education across the board,” Vitale said. “There are both Republicans and Democrats on the conference committee, and they both campaign about how much they love education. But when it comes down to it, the money is not there.”

State Sen. President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said in a statement issued Thursday night, “Making higher education more affordable should be one of our top priorities, so having to limit UMass to a 1.4 percent budget increase is unfortunate. Providing affordable, quality higher education for Massachusetts students helps Massachusetts employers and grows the economy. The Senate will continue to work to find ways to grow our economy, and increase our revenue, so that we do not have to make these kinds of difficult choices in the future.”

Tuition retention

This year is the first for “tuition retention” by UMass, Connolly said, meaning that money will stay with the university. In previous years, tuition paid to the university went to the state budget, with the expectation that the money would reappear in the university’s appropriation.

The university is expected to receive $31 million from the tuition retention program, so that was deducted from the state appropriation. UMass begins this fiscal year with the $508 million budget appropriation, plus $31 million expected from tuition. The appropriation for the year just ended was $531 million.

The tuition increase will not be applied equally to the five campuses, Connolly said. UMass Boston students will likely see the biggest increase because that campus projects a $22.3 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year, he said.

At the beginning of June, UMass Boston notified 400 adjunct professors their contracts may not be renewed in the fall, leading to protests at the trustees meeting June 14.

Conference committee

The Legislature has been preparing a budget for the new fiscal year against the backdrop of a deficit that could reach $750 million for the year just ended, according to Gov. Charlie Baker.

Connolly said the legislative conference committee adopted the $508 million appropriation approved by the House, while the Senate sought $521 million for the university system.

The trustees “have about two weeks to figure out how to deal with the lower number. That means further cuts and efficiencies so the (tuition) increase can be as small as it can possibly be,” Connolly said. “The name of the game now is to try to” keep the increase as low as possible.

In June 2015, the university increased tuition for the first time in three years, drawing criticism from students. Tuition was raised by 5 percent and a $250 mandatory technology fee was added.

The total increase in student tuition, fees and room and board for the 2015-16 academic year was $1,459, bringing the total cost for an on-campus student in Amherst to $25,674 during the most recent academic year.

UMass then was hit in October with a $10.9 million cut after that amount to cover money already committed to pay raises was removed from a $328 million supplemental budget sent by the Legislature to Baker. UMass Amherst bore $5 million of that reduction.

The university announced $3.1 million in central office savings and $239 million in system efficiency measures over 10 years on June 15. Those cuts eliminated jobs of 24 non-unionized employees in the central office through a combination of layoffs, buyouts and freezes on vacant positions, saving $1.2 million. The office instituted a hiring freeze that saved $960,000, canceled a 1.75 percent salary increase to reduce spending by another $480,000, and made efforts to curtail professional travel and participation in professional development programs that saved $115,000.

Meanwhile, UMass President Martin T. Meehan, a former congressman, announced Thursday that he plans to close his campaign committee and transfer its money to an educational foundation and donate $1 million for scholarships to his alma mater, UMass Lowell.

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