2018 State of the University: The Affordability Mission

March 5, 2018


Thank you, Rob, for that introduction.

There is no one more dedicated to ensuring a bright future for UMass and our students than Rob Manning.

His vision, experience and guidance are invaluable to all of us.

Governor Baker, Lieutenant Governor Polito, Senate President Chandler, Speaker DeLeo, Secretary Peyser, members of the legislature, trustees, and former trustees, business leaders, alumni and friends, thank you for your support of UMass.

I’m the proud father of two amazing young men, and I’m thrilled that they were able to join us tonight. Please welcome Bobby and Daniel Meehan.

To the Chancellors and our faculty staff and students, thank you for making UMass an incredible place to work, teach and learn.  

Welcome to the second annual State of the University address. We started this tradition to ensure that we’d come together each year to celebrate our accomplishments.

We are five campuses, but one community in service to the Commonwealth, the nation and the world.

Our mission is to provide a high quality, accessible and affordable education that advances knowledge and improves lives.

Tonight, I will focus on one piece of that mission, but not before assuring you – unequivocally – that the State of the University of Massachusetts is strong, and only getting stronger.

Demand for a UMass education has never been higher, with enrollment approaching 75,000 students, led by more than 30,000 students on our flagship campus in Amherst.

UMass Lowell is the fifth-fastest growing public research university in the country.

UMass Boston just enjoyed the largest Welcome Day for new students in its history.

UMass Dartmouth has begun a new era, launching its master plan and soon to inaugurate Chancellor Johnson.

And UMass Medical School is training more future doctors than ever before.

Last spring, we graduated 18,000 students across the system, the majority of whom will stay in Massachusetts to build their lives.

The UMass student body is now more diverse than the high school student population in Massachusetts, and UMass Boston is the most diverse four-year campus in New England.

And one year after receiving full accreditation from the American Bar Association, the bar passage rate at the UMass School of Law – the only public law school in Massachusetts – has surpassed three of the state’s private, ABA accredited law schools.

Our research enterprise now totals more than $670 million dollars annually, trailing only Harvard and MIT in the state, with focus concentrated in areas critical to the Commonwealth’s economy, like the life sciences, robotics, wind energy, advanced manufacturing and flexible electronics.

UMass Dartmouth has tripled its marine science research presence in New Bedford.

And UMass Lowell is leading discovery of smart fibers and wearable electronics thanks to an $11 million dollar grant from the Baker-Polito administration.

Our research is addressing some of the most pressing public health challenges in the Commonwealth, the nation and across the globe.

The UMass Medical School has launched one of the nation’s first rare disease research institutes.

UMass Boston has developed a test that can diagnose Zika and Dengue Fever in 15 minutes.

UMass Amherst is working with the Chan Zuckerberg Institute to use big data and artificial intelligence to accelerate health discovery.

These and other initiatives are why Reuters has ranked UMass one of the World’s Most Innovative Universities three years running.

And why for the second year in a row, U.S. News & World Report ranked us one of the best university systems in the country, with all four of our undergraduate campuses in the top tier.

It’s clear that we have plenty to be proud of.

These accomplishments validate the hard work of our students, faculty and staff.

And they serve as proof that more and more families recognize the value and quality of a UMass education.  

But as we celebrate our successes, we also have to acknowledge the challenges we face, not just at UMass, but across public higher education.

Because while rankings may boost our reputation, they can’t give a hand up to a student paying their way through college.

Those record numbers of students only make it more difficult to identify the few who are experiencing food insecurity.

Millions of dollars in research grants mean little to the student for whom hundreds of dollars may be the difference between earning a degree or having to withdraw.

So while we pursue excellence – and we will continue to pursue excellence – we must remain affordable for students from all backgrounds.

Because affordability, which is central to our mission, is no longer guaranteed by our status as a public university.


When I attended UMass Lowell 40 years ago, the state covered more than 80 percent of the school’s budget, and I was able to pay my full tuition – which was about $600, or $2,800 in today’s dollars – by working nights, weekends and summers.

Today, the state covers just over 20 percent of the budget.

That means that the cost of a UMass education has shifted from the state to students and their families.

In just the last 17 years, per student state funding has declined by 32 percent when adjusted for inflation.

I want to be clear: This lack of funding is not a partisan issue, nor is it unique to Massachusetts.

It’s a long-term national trend.

States around the country — squeezed by healthcare costs, local aid and other priorities — are struggling to fund higher education.

And perhaps this changing paradigm in public higher education gets less attention than it should because of the skyrocketing tuition at private institutions.

Last week, we learned that annual tuition at five colleges in New England has eclipsed $70,000.

Tuition at those private institutions will soon exceed the median family income in Massachusetts.

It’s no wonder that across the country, student loan debt has nearly doubled over the past decade.

I assure you that we take no comfort in the fact that UMass students graduate with below-average debt, because when I talk to students, it’s clear their finances weigh heavily on them, and that debt impacts their career choices.

I take that personally, because I was able to pursue a career in public service largely because I graduated from UMass debt free.

I now wonder how the trajectory of my own life might have changed had I been born 40 years later.

And that bothers me even more because our students are so talented, so hardworking and so inspiring.

We serve students who are proving that they can turn struggle into opportunity, like Heather MacLean, who coped with the stress of having to earn money to feed her younger siblings by focusing on her studies and running track and cross-country.

The first in her family to attend college, Heather became an all American at UMass Amherst in Track and Field while excelling academically.

She’s now pursuing her master’s degree in higher education. And she’s here with us tonight.

Heather, you make us all proud.

We serve students who personify determination, like Timi Ogunjobi.

Timi faced major financial challenges growing up in Worcester. Last year, he worked three jobs so that he could study mechanical engineering at UMass Lowell while helping his family.

He still found time to be active in The National Society of Black Engineers and serve as president of a men’s leadership organization on campus.

Timmy, we salute you.

We serve students who are achieving dreams that they thought impossible given their backgrounds.

Like Evangelia Murray, whose first exposure to medicine was in the Springfield hospital kitchen where her parents worked.

She was inspired to become a doctor by what she saw there, and with the help of scholarships, she’ll achieve her dream when she graduates from UMass Medical School this spring.

Congratulations, Evangelia.

We serve students who have been inspired to help others with similar challenges, like Stephanie Rodriguez-Ruiz, a mother of a special needs child who plans to use her degree from UMass Law and her experience as a Rappaport Fellow to pursue special education advocacy as a career.

Stephanie, who's about to welcome another child, is with us tonight.

Thank you for being here, Stephanie.

Students like Heaven Reda, whose family came to Boston as refugees from northeast Africa, leaving everything behind.

Heaven worked overnights, going straight to UMass Boston in the morning, then helping her mother through cancer treatments.

With a Beacon Student Success Fellowship, she was able to study in Europe and work with Boston Public Schools on school reform.

Heaven, you are an inspiration to all of us.

These are the students we serve every day at UMass.

There are thousands like them across our five campuses.

Many overcome great financial obstacles to pursue their education and better their lives.

Now, it’s important to note that our high job placement rates and rankings for return on investment demonstrate that most UMass graduates can easily manage a modest amount of debt.

And UMass remains more affordable than most.

We’ve cut costs to hold tuition increases to inflation.

We’re using planning tools and data analysis to make smarter and faster budget decisions.

We’re committing record amounts of funding to financial aid.

We’re working with the Baker administration and community colleges to create shorter and more affordable pathways to a degree.

We’ve implemented financial literacy programs, internship assistance programs and emergency funding for our most vulnerable students.

But we recognize that being more affordable than most isn’t good enough.

We must work proactively and collaboratively to do more.

In that spirit, I spent the last month visiting all five UMass campuses and meeting with students, faculty and campus administrators to discuss a range of subjects related to student success and affordability.

With those conversations as a guide, and in cooperation with the Board of Trustees and the Chancellors, in the months and years ahead, we’ll be focusing on five areas to ensure that UMass will continue to meet our affordability mission.

The first is to reach more students through online programs.

UMass has been a leader in online education since the beginning.

We have a nationally respected brand, and we already serve more than 30,000 students online.

But by expanding our programming, we can reach more working adults, people with incomplete college credit, and others seeking to advance their careers.

We will accomplish this by improving our technology, diversifying our program offerings, and working with the needs of both students and industry.

This will not only increase accessibility; it will enhance our contribution to the upskilling of the workforce, helping the state capitalize on emerging opportunities.

Most importantly, growing our online footprint will make a UMass education more affordable, not just by delivering it at a lower cost, but by generating new revenue to hold costs down for all of our students.

That is my number one priority.

Our second area of focus is to expand our partnerships with non-profits that are working to increase access for low-income students.

We value our scholarship programs with organizations like Camp Harborview, as well as our collaborations with non-profits like uAspire and BottomLine.

Tonight, I’m proud to announce a new partnership with The Base, a Boston-based non-profit dedicated to urban youth that has served more than 8,000 young people to date.

UMass will become the College of Choice for The Base, working collaboratively on mentorship and development programming, and providing scholarships to Base students accepted to UMass.

We’re excited to work with this incredible organization, and I want to thank CEO and Founder Robert Lewis, Jr. for joining us tonight.

The third area is to expand our partnerships with the business community.

We know that companies recognize the benefit of investing in their employees.

And that also benefits UMass, because our alumni make up the majority of the Massachusetts workforce.

That’s why, as part of a new Corporate Endowment Initiative, I will meet with the state’s 30 largest employers to make the case not only for direct investment in scholarships, but for more paid internships and co-ops, as well as debt repayment and tuition assistance programs for employees.

These investments by the private sector not only help our graduates, they help companies recruit and retain them.

The model already exists, and it works.

Companies like Kronos and Raytheon invest in UMass students on a continuum from undergrad to middle management, and they will tell you that their businesses are better for it.

The fourth area of focus is our single greatest opportunity to reduce cost for students, which is to increase our financial aid endowment.

It is imperative that we grow our endowment to provide more scholarships for deserving and needy students.

Which is why tonight, I’m issuing a challenge to our five campuses to raise $200 million dollars, dedicated solely to financial aid over the next 10 years.

This effort will double our financial aid endowment and allow us to provide scholarships to 4,000 more students each year.

I’ve pledged my full support to the chancellors in achieving this goal, which will require greater outreach to individuals and a student-focused approach to fundraising appeals.

We need to tell more people the story of opportunity and transformation that moved so many of you to become supporters of UMass and our mission.

And we are thrilled that legislation currently moving through the State House would incentivize these private contributions by offering a state match to be held in our endowment, in perpetuity, to fund scholarships.

We thank our partners in the legislature for their support, and we urge them to pass this legislation.

As someone who grew up in a working class family in Lowell — whose life was literally transformed by the opportunity to attend UMass — I was proud to establish a scholarship for high-achieving UMass students from gateway cities.

I met last year's recipient, Isabelle Charlot of Brockton, when she was a guest at this event.

And this year’s recipient is here tonight.

He has demonstrated great perseverance in a demanding academic field, while facing significant financial challenges.

By covering the remainder of his tuition for his senior year, this scholarship will allow him to avoid taking out another student loan.

He represents everything that we’re about, and his story is an example of how a UMass education can change lives.

You met him earlier this evening, but he didn’t know this was coming.

I’m proud to announce that this year’s President’s Scholar is Timi Ogunjobi.

Congratulations, Timi.

And finally, the five chancellors and I reaffirm our commitment to full-throated advocacy on behalf of students.

When I meet with students and ask what university leaders can do to help, the most common refrain is that we need to show up for them.

We need to be there, participating in the conversations, and speaking out on the issues most important to them.

I was proud to join our chancellors and other college leaders across the country to challenge federal tax reform legislation that would have taxed tuition waivers for graduate students and eliminated the student loan interest deduction.

Higher education leaders have been among the loudest voices in the fight to protect the Dreamers.

And that fight continues.

So what’s next?

The Higher Education Reauthorization Act before Congress would reduce federal financial aid by $15 billion over the next decade and eliminate the loan forgiveness program for public service.

This threatens the very mission of public higher education, and we will fight it with all that we have.

I’m grateful for the dialogue I’ve had with students, faculty and administrators on these issues, and I want the conversation to continue.

Everyone in this room is dedicated to UMass and shares a belief in the power of public higher education.

We share a belief that an individual should be able to rise as high as their ambitions will take them.

A belief that where you come from should not dictate where you go.

A belief that we have a responsibility to create pathways of opportunity for students from all backgrounds.  

And a belief in the importance and enduring value of our 150-year-old land grant mission.

With those shared values and a shared commitment to UMass, I am certain that we can achieve our goals.

So if you have an idea that can help us maintain affordability – whether it’s conceptual, proven or completely out of the box – we want to hear it.

I’m here.

Chairman Manning and the Trustees are here.

Chancellors Subbaswamy, Mills, Johnson, Moloney and Collins are here.

Share your thoughts with us, and join us in our effort to ensure that a world-class UMass education remains affordable for everyone, just as it was for me and for so many of you.

I am convinced that the future success and prosperity of this Commonwealth depends on it.

Thank you for being here.

Thank you to our students.

Thank you to the UMass Foundation for hosting us tonight.

And thank you all for your unwavering support of UMass.