UMass Board of Trustees approves rise in tuition, student fees

By Mark Chiarelli

 

Andy Castillo/Daily Collegian
(Andy Castillo/Daily Collegian)

The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees approved motions to increase both tuition and student fees Wednesday, marking the first such increase in three years.

The board approved recommendations made by a subcommittee last week which called for increases of student tuition and the mandatory curriculum fee by up to five percent. It also approved the implementation of a $250 Information Technology fee, as well as the increases in other student fees which could increase the cost of attending UMass by six to eight percent.

In Wednesday’s meeting at the Mullins Center, board chair Victor Woolridge said the trustees were mindful of the impact this decision has on students and families and said the board approached it with “the utmost caution and reluctance.”

But he also said the board operates with the expectation a sound fiscal balance must be achieved and that this is a “complex” issue. He stressed the decision was a “contingency” vote.

The University requested a $578 million budget from the state for the upcoming year, but the House authorized a $519 million budget while the Senate authorized a $538 million budget. The budget is currently being negotiated by state legislators and will be between those two numbers.

The board unanimously approved the 2016 UMass operating budget, while four members opposed an increase in mandatory student fees.

According to a University release, tuition and all mandatory student fees for UMass Amherst in-state undergraduate students will increase by $913 to $14,171 next year. Those fees, in addition to room and board, will add up to $25,674 in 2016, a six percent increase.

“It’s been difficult for the entire board, it’s been difficult for the entire administration,” UMass Amherst chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said. “We fully understand the burden on the students, but we fully understand the difficulty the state is in.”

UMass student Charlotte Kelly spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, asking the trustees for support of a letter drafted by the Student Administration Accountability Coalition calling for state legislature to approve maximum funding to UMass to ease the burden of more fees for students.

“We understand the fiscal situation faced by the state this year, but we still have the opportunity to keep fee increases as small as possible and we need your help,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the SAAC plans to send the letter out again as it continues to lobby state legislators to provide UMass more funding. Multiple members of the SAAC attended Wednesday’s meeting.

In an impassioned statement, UMass President Robert Caret said the state isn’t doing its part to help keep student costs down.

Caret criticized the state for not offering more operational and capital funding in addition to student aid, saying higher education has become a “chess piece in budgets games within the state.” Currently, the net average cost to attend UMass is $17,200 per student, a $5,000 increase since 2009.

He added that competitive institutions – such as the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina – also spend 40 to 60 percent more per student than UMass.

Subbaswamy agreed.

“I think the facts speak for themselves,” he said. “We’re not funded anywhere near the level that poorer states are funding their public universities.”

According to Caret, who was attending his final board meeting before leaving to become the chancellor of the Maryland system, it’s reasonable to expect the state and students to split the cost of UMass “50/50,” which is what occurred the last two years and allowed for tuition and fee freezes.

As UMass awaits a budget decision from legislature, Subbaswammy said he was not optimistic the state would provide enough funding to avoid an increase in cost but does hope UMass won’t have to implement the full amount of fee increases.

“In all honesty, I don’t know that I’m optimistic about a zero (percent increase),” he said. “But I am optimistic that it will be less than five (percent) and that’s really up to what the legislature does.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.