Trustees authorize tuition and fee increase if state funding increase falls short

Meeting in Lowell, the Board of Trustees on June 19 authorized President Robert L. Caret to raise tuition and fees by up to 4.9 percent for the coming academic year if the Legislature’s compromise budget does not include a $39 million funding increase for the five-campus system.
“Because the state budget has not been finalized, we find ourselves with the need to give President Caret the authority to raise tuition and fees if … and only if… state funding comes in at a figure lower than the $479 million proposed by the governor and already approved by the House,” said Board of Trustees Chairman Henry M. Thomas III.
“It is our fervent hope that the state budget conference committee will embrace the higher funding level approved by the House and that this increase will be signed into law by the governor.  If that happens, we will happily go forward with the tuition and fee freeze as envisioned under President Caret’s 50-50 plan,” Thomas added.
The vote taken by the board contains specific language noting the intent “to freeze the mandatory fees … for the next two fiscal years,” if the state provides sufficient funding in the next two state budgets.
The trustee vote came a legislative conference committee continues to  reach agreement on a state budget measure.
The House and Senate differ on funding for UMass, with the House having approved $479 million in fiscal 2014 funding for the five-campus system -- matching the funding level proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick – and the Senate opting for $455 million.
The $479 million in funding backed by the House would allow UMass to go forward with its first tuition and mandatory fee freeze in more than a decade, under the terms of Caret’s 50-50 proposal.
Over the past year, Caret has advanced a 50-50 proposal, under which the state and students would provide equal shares of the funding for the University’s educational programs. This year, students and their families are supplying 57 percent of the $1.3 billion needed to provide educational programs across the five-campus system, and the state is paying for the remaining 43 percent. Five years ago, the proportion was exactly reversed: the state paid 57 percent and students 43 percent.
“We want to build pathways to the future for our students, and affordability is important to making sure that these critical paths always remain open,” Caret said. “The funding level put forward by the House would allow for a tuition and fee freeze, and at the same time would protect the high-quality academic programs the citizens of the Commonwealth expect and deserve.”
Caret added, “For a year now, we have been working to achieve a situation where we would be able to freeze tuition and mandatory fees, and with the Legislature’s support and the governor’s continued support we will be able to achieve that goal.”
Under the proposal put forward by Caret, the state would provide UMass with nearly $100 million in additional funding over the next two years, achieving a 50-50 balance in 2014-15. UMass would freeze tuition and the mandatory curriculum fee during each of the next two academic years as long as sufficient funding was approved.
Under the vote, tuition and fees could be raised up to 4.9 percent, with the exact amount of a potential increase essentially tied to the funding UMass receives from the state.
“While the board has given me the authority to increase student charges, my preferred option would be to keep tuition and mandatory fees at current rates,” Caret said.
Over the past 15 years, funding for UMass has been essentially flat. This year, UMass is receiving $439 million in funding from the state. Fifteen years ago, in FY98, UMass received $405 million from the state, and when this century began in FY2000, state funding for UMass was $456 million – or $17 million higher than it is today.
While state funding has remained flat, enrollment throughout the five-campus system has surged – from 56,995 students in fall 1997 to 70,774 students in fall 2012.
While UMass is more affordable than a private university, the state-to-student transfer of funding responsibilities that has occurred in recent years has led to higher tuition and fee levels and to increased student debt. This year, an estimated 75 percent of all UMass undergraduates are graduating with debt, and average debt is $28,462, up from $20,956 five years ago.
Meanwhile, the University has been engaged in an aggressive program to achieve savings and efficiencies that has resulted in $68 million in expense reductions over the past five years. The saving came through steps including consolidating administrative functions previously performed on each of the campuses. UMass expects to save another $123 million over the next five years by reducing energy expenditures, improving purchasing practices and streamlining information technology operations.