BOSTON – Vowing to preserve the university’s affordability mission while continuing to pursue excellence, University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan outlined five areas of focus to ensure a world-class UMass education remains affordable for students from all backgrounds in his annual State of the University address.
Approximately 300 people attended the March 5 event hosted by the UMass Foundation at the UMass Club in Boston, including Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Senate President Harriette Chandler and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
After focusing his inaugural State of the University address in 2017 on the university’s leading role in economic and workforce development in the state, Meehan spent the majority of his second annual address on the topic of maintaining affordability for students.
Citing statistics including a 32 percent decline in per student state support for public higher education since 2001, Meehan noted that the long-term trend has shifted the cost from the state to students and their families, saying, “affordability, which is central to our mission, is no longer guaranteed by our status as a public university.”
Meehan then said the university community must work collaboratively to address the issue, outlining fives areas of focus informed by a recent listening tour of the five UMass campuses:
- Growing the university’s online programming to increase accessibility while generating revenue to drive down costs for all students;
- Expanding partnerships with nonprofit organizations working to increase college access for low-income students, including a new partnership with Boston-based nonprofit The Base;
- Increasing collaboration with the state’s business community, including a new Corporate Endowment Initiative, in which UMass will encourage the state’s largest employers to make direct contributions to scholarships as well as invest in internships, co-ops, tuition repayment programs and loan forgiveness programs;
- Raising $200 million dollars over the next 10 years dedicated solely to financial aid, which would double the university’s financial aid endowment and allow UMass to provide scholarships to 4,000 more students each year;
- A commitment by university leadership to advocate against federal policies that threaten the university’s affordability mission, including elements of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act.
Meehan also announced the recipient of the 2018 President’s Scholarship, Timi Ogunjobi of Worcester, a junior mechanical engineering student at UMass Lowell who has overcome considerable financial challenges to pursue his education. The scholarship will cover the remaining portion of Ogunjobi’s tuition for his senior year, alleviating the need for him to take out another student loan.
“Timi represents everything that we’re about, and his story is an example of how a UMass education can change lives,” Meehan said.
Ogunjobi, who worked three jobs last year so he could pursue his engineering degree while helping his family, was one of several students Meehan highlighted during the speech. Others included:
- Heather MacLean of Danvers, Mass., a graduate student at UMass Amherst, who coped with the stress of having to earn money to feed her younger siblings by focusing on her studies and running track and cross country. She went on to become UMass Amherst’s first All-American track and field athlete while excelling academically and is now pursuing her master’s degree in higher education.
- Evangelia Murray of Springfield, Mass., a UMass Medical School student whose first exposure to medicine was in the Springfield hospital kitchen where her parents worked. She was inspired to become a doctor by what she saw there, and with the help of scholarships, she’ll achieve her dream when she graduates from UMass Medical School this spring.
- Stephanie Rodriguez-Ruiz of Boston, a UMass Law student, Rappaport Fellow and mother of a special needs child who plans to use her degree to pursue a career in special education advocacy.
- Heaven Reda, of Boston, an Eritrean refugee who worked overnights and helped her mother through cancer treatments during her time at UMass Boston. With a Beacon Student Success fellowship, she was able to study abroad in Europe, and she now plans to go on to earn her master’s degree in international relations.
“These are the students we serve every day at UMass,” Meehan said, calling them “talented, hardworking and inspiring.”
Meehan began the address by highlighting a year of record-setting growth and achievement for UMass, recapping new milestones across the five-campus system, including:
- Being ranked one of the top university systems in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, with all four undergraduate campuses in the top tier;
- Being named one of the World’s Most Innovative Universities by Reuters for the third year in a row;
- Record-high enrollment of nearly 75,000 students across the five campuses;
- Graduating the largest class in history last spring, with nearly 18,000 students earning degrees; and
- Conducting a record-high $670 million in research and development across the five campuses, with research concentrated in areas critical to the Commonwealth’s economy
The event featured live musical performances from several UMass student groups: The Hawkettes of UMass Lowell performed the National Anthem, S#arp Attitude of UMass Amherst performed a rendition of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” to cap the address, and the UJazz Boston Trio of UMass Boston provided musical entertainment during a reception that followed.
In his conclusion, Meehan — a first-generation college student who paid his way through UMass Lowell by working nights, weekends and summers — called on those in attendance to share ideas to address college affordability with university leadership.
“Everyone in this room is dedicated to UMass and shares a belief in the power of public higher education,” he said. “We share a belief that an individual should be able to rise as high as their ambitions will take them, 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.”
Meehan was introduced by Chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees, Rob Manning, who called him a visionary leader and said, “His commitment is just tireless. He believes in the mission of UMass.”