This week brought welcome news to students in Massachusetts’ public university system. Thanks to a timely increase in state aid, all University of Massachusetts campuses are not raising their in-state tuition next year. According to Peter Schworm writing for The Boston Globe, this is the first time that the system won’t be imposing a tuition hike in more than a decade.
The legislature voted to approve a higher education budget that is 17% greater than it was last year following years of cuts. Five years ago, before state revenues took a hit due to the impact of the worldwide recession, state funding covered more than 55% of public universities’ operating cost while student tuition covered the rest. In 2012, the percentages were reversed.
This speedy transition which forced UMass students to take on more debt pushed some education advocates to call for a permanent 50/50 split between state aid and tuition payments. Among the supporters of such a system is current president of the UMass system Robert Caret.
For its part, the university agreed to freeze tuition and mandatory fees for the first time in a dozen years. In a rare consensus, the nine state universities, which received a $15 million increase, and the 15 community colleges have also agreed to hold tuition and fees steady.
Lawmakers have indicated support for a second budget increase next year, which would allow the schools to again hold the line on costs.
“If we freeze it for two years, we’ll see the average debt drop,” Caret said. “It will make a huge difference.”
The freeze does not apply to out-of-state students, for whom tuition is significantly higher.
The average debt load of a UMass student is now $28,000 which is more than 33% higher than it was 5 years ago.
Like in many public university systems, tuition charged varies significantly among UMass campuses. While tuition at UMass Boston is $12,000 a year, including room and board, at UMass Amherst, tuition alone is $13,200 per year.
Schworm calls the hike in state funding “a breakthrough” for those who have been campaigning for the past five years to stop higher education cuts. The reversal could represent an acknowledgment that the state’s public university system provides a substantial contribution to the state’s economy.
State Representative Tom Sannicandro, the House chairman of the Legislature’s joint committee on higher education, said lawmakers recognized the growing importance of the public college system to the state’s economy, and the need to assist students from low-income families.
“We absolutely need to be spending more money on higher education,” he said. “The more college degrees you have, the better everybody does.”