UMass students confront another tuition increase

  • Solomon Bereson, a UMass student, talks about the tuition hikes for this fall. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Doug Bessette, a UMass student, talks about the tuition hikes for this fall. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Solomon Bereson, a UMass student, talks about the tuition hikes for this fall. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/6/2019 11:18:03 PM

AMHERST — When the University of Massachusetts board of trustees voted to raise tuition by 2.5 percent on Friday, it didn’t come as much of a surprise.

UMass President Marty Meehan had for months said that a tuition hike was likely if the state didn’t match his $568 million funding request. And when Massachusetts became the last state in the nation to pass a state budget, on July 21, UMass received $558 million — $29 million more than last year, though most of that will pay for the collectively bargained contracts of faculty and staff.

It’s the fifth consecutive year of tuition increases for students and their families in the UMass system. On the UMass Amherst campus on Monday, some said that at this point they feel inured to the escalating cost of higher education in the state.

“It definitely makes the future uncertain,” said Solomon Berenson, a rising junior from Northampton. He said this year’s increase hurts, but ultimately it is just piling onto the already significant student debt he and others have to take on. “We’re talking big money here.”

Yearly tuition is now at $15,791 for in-state undergraduate students on the flagship campus — a $385 increase from last year. Together with tuition, fees and room and board, in-state students now will be paying $29,393 a year before financial aid.

In a statement after the trustees voted on the tuition hike, Meehan said he was grateful to the Legislature for fully funding the state’s collective bargaining expenses and increasing the school’s base appropriation.

“Because of the state’s investment and the aggressive cost containment and efficiency measures implemented by university leadership, we are able to once again hold tuition to the rate of inflation while maintaining excellence in academic programming and student services,” he said. “We will continue to explore ways we can cut costs and operate more efficiently to remain affordable and accessible for students.”

Timmy Sullivan, a soon-to-be senior and the president of the Student Government Association at UMass Amherst, has seen tuition increase every year he has been a student on campus. He said he has seen firsthand what a lack of affordability can mean for students.

“I have friends who are priced out of our meal plan options,” he said, adding that he knows some people who skip meals to save money. “Their lunch is a nap before they go to their second or third job to make some more money to pay for the rising tuition.”

Sullivan pointed to legislation, both on the state and federal levels, that he said could address the country’s student debt crisis.

On the federal level, Sullivan praised the efforts of Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who have both proposed expansive student debt cancelation and tuition-free public colleges and universities.

As for legislation filed on Beacon Hill, Sullivan mentioned the Cherish Act, which would increase the state’s higher education spending by $500 million over five years, and the efforts of state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, to pass a bill to make college debt-free in the state.

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, was the lead sponsor on the Cherish Act. She said Tuesday that with the additional $100 million in yearly higher education funding that the Cherish Act would provide, the goal would be to hold tuition and fees static.

“We’re paying for the cost of doing business, and not transferring that cost onto students and families,” she said of the bill.

Comerford said the state for years has disinvested in public higher education, and that the bill aims to address that shortfall. The legislation would require that the state’s higher ed funding be no less than its fiscal 2001 per-student funding level, adjusted for inflation.

As for this year’s tuition hike, Comerford said that she and the UMass leadership believe in making college more affordable in the state.

“We should be sobered by tuition costs, and at the same time I’m glad that the resolve of this budget meant UMass could go on without cuts,” Comerford said.

On campus Monday, 38-year-old Doug Bessette was himself sobered by the tuition hike.

“I’m screwed,” the sophomore said. Bessette said he is already struggling to make ends meet, and is someone who wouldn’t even be at UMass without the financial aid he has received. “Without those things, I wouldn’t be able to come here.”

Bessette said he was on the hunt for a job, hoping to find one before he is joined on campus by the rest of the 22,000 undergraduates returning from summer break. That’s when the job market becomes saturated, he added.

‘You’re really lucky if you can get a job around here,” he said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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