UMass system to direct $148 million toward financial aid

By Marie MacCune

Flickr/tobym
Flickr/tobym

University of Massachusetts President Robert Caret, in an announcement to the Board of Trustees earlier this month, said that the UMass system would direct $148 million of its own funds toward student financial aid.

Last year, UMass students borrowed or were awarded a record high of $728.3 million in financial aid, according to a University press release. That number is expected to grow this year.

“More and more students need help paying for college, and we are committed to helping them so that the doors of opportunity remain open on all five of our campuses,” Caret said in the release. “I commend the chancellors for working to ensure that students with financial need get the assistance they need. It is critically important that we keep UMass affordable and not burden students with unmanageable college debt.”

A report by the president also said that 80 percent of UMass students applied for financial aid last year, and students graduating from UMass this year carry an average of $29,400 in debt. According to the financial aid website, UMass Amherst provided $198 million in aid to 20,000 students last year.

Caret’s report also stated that 71 percent of total aid given to students is funded by the University and the federal government in the form of grants and loans. According to the report, UMass met 88.4 percent of in-state student need.

Ann Scales, director of communications, explained how financial aid at UMass works.

“In simple terms, some portion of a student’s tuition and fees goes into paying for a poorer student’s,” she said. Scales said that the University would now be directing more of those funds toward financial aid.

“Other sources of financial aid have gone flat, so more and more is coming from the University,” Scales added, referring to the plateau of funding the UMass system has seen from the state.

When asked about the University’s plan to keep up with the growing demand of aid, she said, “The concern going forward is how we are going to help the students who absolutely need it to go to college.”

According to Scales, this concern is one of President Caret’s biggest reasons for supporting and pushing for the 50/50 plan, in which the state covers half of a student’s tuition and fees and the student’s family is responsible for paying for the other half.

“In the Fiscal Year ‘14, the state allocated UMass $40 million in funding, which helped us to implement a tuition and fee freeze. We have asked the governor and legislature for a second year of increased funding to really help those students who need it the most,” Scales said. According to a January 2014 Boston Globe article about financial aid, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated national student debt to have approached $1.2 trillion last year.

According to the article, student debt in Massachusetts is the 12th highest in the country.

Despite the growing need for aid, UMass remains the most affordable option for in-state students, according to Caret’s report. In-state cost of attendance per year, including tuition, fees and housing, averages to $25,855. Private colleges in Massachusetts average about $58,536.

Marie MacCune can be reached at [email protected]