Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Marty Meehan delivers 2018 State of the University address

‘My mission is to provide a high-quality accessible affordable education that advances knowledge and improves lives’
Judith Gibson-Okunieff

Shortly after 5 p.m. on Monday, March 5, President of the University of Massachusetts System Marty Meehan delivered the 2018 State of the University Address, hosted by the UMass Foundation at the UMass Club in Boston, addressing the tremendous costs of higher education and how he plans to counter these issues.

Meehan was introduced by Chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees Rob Manning, who said that Meehan’s commitment to the University system is tireless.

During the speech, Meehan explained how the costs of higher education have increased dramatically since his years as an undergraduate.

“When I attended UMass Lowell 40 years ago,” Meehan said, “the state covered more than 80 percent of the school’s budget, and I was able to pay my full tuition—which was about $600, or $2,800 in today’s dollars—by working nights, weekends and summers.”

The UMass system prides itself on being one of the most affordable public institutions in the United States. However, part time jobs aren’t nearly enough for millennials trying to pay the costs of pursuing a higher education.

According to U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Best Colleges Guide, UMass Amherst is nationally ranked 29th among public, four-year colleges, improving from 52nd on the list in 2010.

Nevertheless, Meehan claims that he takes no comfort in the fact that UMass students graduate with below national average debt.

“I take that personally,” Meehan explained, “because I was able to pursue a career in public service largely because I graduated from UMass Lowell debt-free. I now wonder how the trajectory of my own life might have changed had I been born 40 years later.”

After touring the five universities of the UMass system,  Meehan spoke to chancellors, students and faculty about the biggest issues that students face. There was an overwhelming response facing the problem of higher education costs and the debt that arises from this schooling.

Meehan said that he aims to tackle the student debt problem with a collaborative five-point plan that was outlined in his speech.

The first part of Meehan’s plan intends to grow the online presence of a UMass degree. By expanding this online education to be more flexible and accessible to working adults looking to advance their careers, this will generate more revenue to hold costs down for all students.

“Growing our online footprint will make a UMass education more affordable,” Meehan said.

The second area of focus under Meehan’s affordable higher education plan will expand partnerships with nonprofit organizations to increase access for low-income students. Meehan kicked off this portion of his plan by announcing the UMass system’s new partnership with the Boston-based nonprofit group called the BASE, an organization that combines both baseball and softball training with academic resources to help underprivileged kids reach their goals both on and off the field.

The third point of Meehan’s plan looks to collaborate with the state’s business communities, many of which are people with UMass degrees. This point also includes a new corporate endowment initiative, which will encourage the state’s largest employers to make direct contributions to scholarships for UMass students, in addition to contributing to new internships, co-op opportunities, tuition payback programs and better loan forgiveness programs.

The fourth area of focus of Meehan’s five-point outline commits to raising $200 million over the next 10 years which will be dedicated completely to financial aid for students. According to UMass a press release, this monetary addition “would double the University’s financial aid endowment and allow UMass to provide scholarships to 4,000 more students each year.”

The final point outlined by Meehan explains his commitment to advocating against federal policies that pressure the University system into increasing tuition, which in turn would increase student debt, in the coming years. This would include some material of the elements of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act.

President Meehan ended the address with the announcement of the 2018 President’s Scholarship recipient, Timi Ogunjobi. As a junior mechanical engineering major from Worcester, Ogunjobi studies at UMass Lowell and worked three jobs last year on top of school, in order to continue his education while assisting his financially struggling family. The President’s Scholarship will cover the remainder of Ogunjobi’s tuition for his senior year, helping him avoid taking out another loan.

“Timi represents everything that we’re about, and his story is an example of how a UMass education can change lives,” Meehan said.

President Meehan plans to implement his five-point outline for the remainder of this school year, more clearly applying this plan next fall.

“We share a belief that an individual should be able to rise as high as their ambitions will take them,” Meehan said, “a belief that where you come from should not dictate where you go, and a belief that we have a responsibility to create pathways of opportunity for students from all backgrounds.”

Gretchen Keller can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @GretchenKellerr.

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    Ryan McKinneyMar 6, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    PS. Millennials don’t make up the majority of college students (Gen Z)… but I get the point. It’s a noble and important cause that impacts millions of students and alumni from colleges around the country. I just hope that in improving affordability that corners aren’t cut on quality.