UMass trustees reiterate desire for tuition and fee freeze, authorize increase if state funding falls short
- The UMass System
LOWELL - June 19, 2013: The UMass Board of Trustees today stressed its desire to freeze tuition and mandatory fees and said those charges will remain frozen in the upcoming academic year if UMass receives the $39 million funding increase now being weighed in the state budget process. But noting the need to have a financial fallback position if that does not occur, the Board also authorized a potential increase in student charges.
"Because the state budget has not been finalized, we find ourselves with the need to give President Caret the authority to raise tuition and fees if...and only if...state funding comes in at a figure lower than the $479 million proposed by the Governor and already approved by the House," Board of Trustees Chairman Henry M. Thomas III said.
"It is our fervent hope that the state budget conference committee will embrace the higher funding level approved by the House and that this increase will be signed into law by the Governor. If that happens, we will happily go forward with the tuition and fee freeze as envisioned under President Caret's 50-50 plan," Chairman Thomas added.
The vote taken by the UMass Trustees contained specific language noting the intent "to freeze the mandatory fees for the next two fiscal years," if the state provides sufficient funding in the next two state budgets.
Trustees met as a legislative conference committee is trying to reach agreement on a new state budget.
The House and Senate differ on funding for UMass, with the House having approved $479 million in Fiscal Year 2014 funding for the five-campus UMass system -- matching the funding level proposed by Governor Patrick - and the Senate opting for $455 million.
The $479 million in funding backed by the House would allow UMass to go forward with its first tuition and mandatory fee freeze in more than a decade, under the terms of President Caret's 50-50 proposal.
Over the past year, President Caret has advanced a 50-50 proposal, under which the state and students would provide equal shares of the funding for the University's educational programs. This year, students and their families are supplying 57 percent of the $1.3 billion needed to provide educational programs across the five-campus system, and the state is paying for the remaining 43 percent. Five years ago, that was exactly reversed: the state paid 57 percent and students 43 percent.
"We want to build pathways to the future for our students, and affordability is important to making sure that these critical paths always remain open," President Caret said. "The funding level put forward by the House would allow for a tuition and fee freeze, and at the same time would protect the high-quality academic programs the citizens of the Commonwealth expect and deserve."
President Caret added: "For a year now, we have been working to achieve a situation where we would be able to freeze tuition and mandatory fees, and with the Legislature's support and the Governor's continued support we will be able to achieve that goal."
Under the proposal put forward by President Caret, the state would provide UMass with nearly $100 million in additional funding over the next two years, thereby achieving a 50-50 balance in 2014-2015. UMass would freeze tuition and the mandatory curriculum fee during each of the next two academic years as long as sufficient funding were approved.
Under the vote, tuition and fees could be raised up to 4.9 percent, with the exact amount of a potential increase essentially tied to the funding UMass receives from the state.
"While the Board has given me the authority to increase student charges, my preferred option would be to keep tuition and mandatory fees at current rates," President Caret said.
Over the past 15 years, funding for UMass has been essentially flat. This year, UMass is receiving $439 million in funding from the state. Fifteen years ago, in Fiscal Year 1998, UMass received $405 million from the state, and when this century began in Fiscal Year 2000, state funding for UMass was $456 million - or $17 million higher than it is today.
While state funding has remained flat, enrollment throughout the five-campus system has surged - from 56,995 students in Fall 1997 to 70,774 students in Fall 2012.
While UMass is more affordable than a private university, the state-to-student transfer of funding responsibilities that has occurred in recent years has led to higher tuition and fee levels and to increased student debt. This year, an estimated 75 percent of all UMass undergraduates are graduating with debt, and average debt is $28,462, up from $20,956 five years ago.
Meanwhile, the University has been engaged in an aggressive program to achieve savings and efficiencies that has resulted in $68 million in expense reductions over the past five years. UMass has saved the $68 million through steps including consolidating administrative functions previously performed on each of the campuses. UMass expects to save another $123 million over the next five years by reducing energy expenditures, improving purchasing practices and streamlining information technology operations.
Contact: Robert P. Connolly, 617-287-7073; Ann Scales, 617-287-4084