UMass President Marty Meehan to work with alums and state to lower tuition

Could possible tax increases be the unpopular answer?


Alvin Buyinza/Collegian

By Alvin Buyinza, Assistant News Editor

After discussing college affordability with the Student Government Association and the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, University of Massachusetts system President Marty Meehan may be willing to take steps in working with state legislature and UMass alumni to reduce tuition costs.

In addition to the UMass president, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and Vice Chancellor Enku Gelaye were also present.

According to Barkha Bhandari, an SGA senator, both organizations looked to gain concrete steps to assure more state funding, making tuition and fees cheaper and to possibly provide free higher education for Massachusetts students.

“What is frustrating is if you factor in inflation, the cost of a UMass education actually hasn’t gone up,” said Meehan. “The cost if you factor in inflation actually has stayed about the same or slightly gone down, and what has shifted is who pays for it. It’s shifted from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to students and their families.”

According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, since 2001, Massachusetts has cut funding toward higher education by 14 percent. Furthermore, as funding decreases and enrollment increases, per student enrollment has decreased by 31 percent.

In order to tackle this issue, Meehan believes that there must be more pressure toward Washington, D.C., namely the federal government, that needs to be “more sensitive” toward the costs of public research institutes.

In addition to placing more pressure on the federal government, Bhandari also requested the direct support for Meehan to become involved in the campaign for affordable education.

“You [Meehan] have been in the Statehouse and having your face to our campaign would potentially put it in a league that it hasn’t been before,” Bhandari said.

Mobilizing legislators to get on board with college affordability isn’t a struggle for Meehan. However, funding public universities is another battle.

In the past, Massachusetts governors have been able to negotiate financial assets toward union employees at public universities, but then neglect to fund what they have fully negotiated.

“Most states actually pay for the building and the upkeep for the building and the labs and all of that, whereas increasingly in Massachusetts in the last two decades that individual campuses are picking up more of that, and when the individual campuses pick that up, that means primarily students pick that up,” Meehan explained.

One solution to the problem was a tax increase.

“I think every member of the legislator will agree with in principle debt-free college – if not free college – one [way] or another,” said Subbaswamy. “They will agree that this is a worthwhile cause and we’re behind it, so are they willing to raise taxes? Is the governor willing to raise taxes?”

That’s at the heart of the issue. If an increase in taxes is where the governor is pulled toward, the next questions is where the money gets allocated.

“What we are missing here is an honest conversation about increase revenues, and are elected members willing to take the heat? And if they will take the heat, and [they] may not get elected if they do support a tax increase,” Subbaswamy continued.

It was no surprise to Meehan that Subbaswamy hypothesized that elected officials may take a strong backlash from the general public over a proposed tax increase; however, Meehan did respond in wanting to find some method to reduce education costs.

Moving toward another solution to fight the increase in college costs was outreach toward alumni from UMass. Meehan proposed that UMass graduates working in legislature should advocate for college affordability.

Wanting to combine the power of social media, technology and networking all into one, Subbaswamy proposed for there to be a social media day toward higher education affordability.

Meehan also proposed hiring a firm to mobilize alumni and students, but ideally he said the firm would exist to gain constituent support in having a working conversation toward higher education funding.

Freezing tuition was another idea proposed at the table by Meehan, which was respectfully criticized by SGA president Timmy Sullivan.

“I think it’s a false narrative to suggest that we don’t freeze tuition [and] we are saving from cuts, because if we don’t freeze tuition and tuition goes up, what we’re actually cutting are students,” he said.

In the three years Sullivan has spent at UMass, he has witnessed 19 close companions drop out of school due to costs. To Sullivan, the appropriate responses from UMass is a sense of urgency to address the issues.

Editor’s note: Barkha Bhandari is a contributor to the Massachusetts Daily Collegian.

Alvin Buyinza can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @abuyinza_news.