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UMass Board Challenges State To Pay More

This article is more than 10 years old.

After voting 15-2 Wednesday to raise tuition and fees by 4.9 percent, the UMass Board of Trustees also agreed to freeze fees for two years if the state funds 50 percent of the UMass system, as it used to.

The fact that the board raised the cost of attending UMass by $580 per student was not surprising; it has raised fees almost every year for the past decade. But not all hikes come with a challenge to the Legislature.

"There’s gotta be a major public policy discussion," said James Karam, the chair of the board. "The voters of this commonwealth have got to determine what they are going to do for higher education."

Fiscal year 2009 was the last time the state provided 50 percent of the school’s funding. Next year, the state’s share is expected to be 43 percent, which means students and families are shouldering more of the cost.

"None of us is in favor of this increase," Karam said. "But I don’t know the alternative. We still have to pay the lights and pay the quality faculty we have, and we have to drive research in this state if this is going to continue to be the knowledge-based center of the country, along with a couple of other states, and there’s a price to pay to enter that game."

But there’s a tug-of-war over whether the state should boost funding or UMass should cut costs.

Gov. Deval Patrick said UMass should focus more on keeping the price down, rather than raising the cost to students.

"It’s my hope that before I leave office, we here in the State House can raise more revenue to better support all of public higher education," Patrick said. "But I think the quid pro quo for that is to show the public that every element of waste, every dime, can be wrenched out where it can be."

The governor’s representative on the UMass Board of Trustees voted against the cost increase, saying more can be done to cut costs.

The university said it has cut 645 positions over the past four years to reduce costs.

On Wednesday, the board voted to expand an efficiency task force, and UMass President Robert Caret said they are doing all they can.

"To say that we’re not involved in efficiencies efforts is ridiculous," Caret said. "We have been involved in efficiency efforts for years at this point."

But there’s a systemic problem, trustees agreed. As state funding continues to slip, enrollment grows, labor costs go up, and building maintenance is deferred.

Trustee Ed Collins said the state needs to find a solution.

"If you want this university to be what it is and what it hopes to become, we have to enthusiastically support and engage a new revenue model for funding this university," Collins said. "If you don’t, you have to decide what it is you want us to be."

A few UMass students at the Dartmouth campus, where the trustee meeting was held, said they aren’t surprised their tuition and fees will go up.

"With inflation as it is everywhere, the 4.9 percent doesn’t bother me too much because I’ve seen the over the course of my four years here even higher raises," said Joey Mello.

"No one likes to hear that they have to spend more money, but I guess we understand things need to be done," said Amanda Curry.

The almost 5 percent increase in tuition and fees will give the university $25 million. But even that’s not enough to fully cover expense increases.

This article was originally published on June 07, 2012.

This program aired on June 7, 2012.


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