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Lack of state funding a main cause of UMass fee hikes

Flickr/tobym

When it comes to bearing the burden of paying for the rising costs of higher education, students and their families usually carry most of the weight.

For many public state schools, decreases in state funding have led to shouldering rising costs through increases in tuition and fees. In the 1960s, the state funded 85 percent of University of Massachusetts costs. Now, the state funds only 43 percent, placing the remaining majority of costs on students. The most recent year that the state shouldered 50 percent of costs was in the fiscal year 2009.

Last year, the Board of Trustees approved a 4.9 percent increase in costs to students in an effort to offset the lack of state funding, a move that increased revenue by $25 million. At UMass, compulsory fees are currently more than six times that of the school’s in-state tuition, which has remained at a stable $857 per semester, according to a joint report by ProPublica and The Huffington Post.

A decision has not yet been made on potential increases in fees for the upcoming 2013-14 academic school year, according to UMass spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski,

“The decision will depend on what happens with this year’s state appropriation,” Blaguszewski said.

For some students, even scholarships do little to ease the burden of these rising costs.

UMass sophomore Krystiana Prescott receives the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, a four-year scholarship which eliminates the cost of in-state tuition for Massachusetts students who score highly on the Massachusetts Comprehension Assessment System (MCAS) in high school, but says the scholarship does little to offset the price of fees.

“I was excited to get the scholarship, but I am pretty disappointed that tuition is so little of the cost of the school and I have a lot more to pay,” said Prescott, an English major. She estimates she will face over $30,000 of debt upon graduation.

According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the average debt of UMass graduates was $25,240 in 2010. Although this number is in line with the national average of $25,250, the number of UMass students graduating with debt was five percent higher than the state average by a margin of 68 percent to 63 percent.

The variety of mandatory fees each student faces each semester includes a curriculum fee, which is $4,707 per in-state student and $7,303 per non-Massachusetts resident; as well as a service fee of $675, a basic health fee of $327 and an activities fee of $48.

The University also includes a few specialized fees such as the $300 Honors College fee and a $160 engineering fee which students of those colleges pay each semester. There are also one-time fees such as the freshman counseling fee of $300, the undergraduate entering fee of $185 and the senior fee of $110.

The basic health fee, which totals $654 yearly, is particularly frustrating to Angelo de Melo, an international student from Bermuda who was required to purchase an entirely separate insurance plan because his international health insurance plan was not acceptable at the University under Massachusetts state law.

“Having to pay two separate health insurance bills, plus a yearly health fee when I have never even been to UHS is just part of the debt my family and I will face when I graduate next year,” said de Melo, a rising senior.

As UMass students realize the harsh reality of debt after college, some are beginning to tell their story and express their displeasure. The UMass Students Against Debt Coalition created a “debt fence” outside the Student Union. Students have been posting letters, signs and drawings speaking to what they call a “debt crisis,” one of which reads: “What kind of system trusts 17-year-olds with signing their name for $80,000 of debt?”

The University has made several attempts to increase revenue, including increasing the total student population by over 2,000 since 2005 as well as raising the number of out-of-state students.

According to the UMass Office of Institutional Research, out-of-state students made up 18 percent of the total student population in 2005. In 2012, the figure had risen to 21 percent.

As part of its master plan, Blaguszewski said the Univeresity plans to increase total student enrollment by 3,000 over 10 years, increasing out-of-state enrollment to 25 percent of the student body while still maintaining— or even increasing — spaces for in-state residents.

Before the fiscal year 2009, tuition and fees increased by no more than 3.5 percent for Massachusetts residents; institutional need-based aid funding increased yearly by nine percent, according to the University’s 2013 budget request document.

The same document points out that over the past two years, need-based aid has increased about 20 percent each year to offset the hike of student fees.

Despite this, the University faces a deferred maintenance backlog of $1.7 billion. If significant funding is not directed toward this backlog, the 2013 Budget Request states: “the campus will be forced, within the next five years, to close some academic buildings because they will no longer be functional.”

The UMass Board of Trustees promised last summer to freeze the cost of tuition and fees for fall 2013 and spring 2014 if the state agrees to fund 50 percent of the education budget.

This would mean a seven percent increase in funding and a reverse in the trend of declining funds, which has amounted to a loss of $35 million since 2008, according to the Request.

Campus improvements and construction as well as the costs of student fees and tuition are riding on the state’s appropriation for the 2013-14 school year.

UMass released an official statement of last year’s fees increase in response to the state appropriation on June 6, 2012. It is expected that this year’s announcement will be made around the same time.

Eric Bosco can be reached at ebosco@student.umass.edu.

Comments
2 Responses to “Lack of state funding a main cause of UMass fee hikes”
  1. Dr. Ed Cutting says:

    This is more than a little misleading.

    UMass spends far more than it used to — in the 1960s, the ENTIRE administration fit into the South College building. UMass now has more administrators than professors — and does anyone realize how many six-figure salaries there are?

    Hence the Commonwealth could provide 85% of the budget with fewer (inflation-adjusted) dollars — and even a far more generous legislature now can only provide a much smaller portion of the much bigger budget.

    Look at it like this — someone goes from driving a Toyota Corolla to a Ford F-350 truck — goes from 40 MPG to 13 MPG — and then complains about the cost of gasoline. It isn’t that it costs more per gallon as much as you are burning 3 times as much of it. And that is the problem of UMass — spending too much and treating students badly.

  2. Bobby says:

    Bring it more out-of-state students because you charge them more for the SAME education that they are providing to in-state students? Almost every public college does it but its absolutely ridiculous. After scholarships and financial aid, it would’ve been cheaper for me to go to private schools (Syracuse and Drexel) then come to UMass as an out-of-state student. Absolutely ridiculous.

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