Possible tuition hike in the UMass system

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BOSTON — University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan delivered a pointed message to state senators on Tuesday, placing a $10.2 million price on a near-term tuition freeze for in-state undergraduate students.

Meehan has spent the spring telling legislative budget writers that if they include the university system's full, $568 million funding request in next year's state spending plan, UMass will be able to hold tuition at its current level for Massachusetts resident undergrads.

The $42.7 billion budget the House passed last week funded UMass at $558 million, the same level Gov. Charlie Baker included in his budget recommendation in January. Amendments offered by Reps. Mindy Domb and Natalie Higgins that would have boosted the UMass appropriation by the requested $10 million faded without votes after lawmakers privately debated education spending amendments.

Testifying Tuesday in support of bills calling for additional state funding for public higher education, Meehan turned his attention to the Senate, which will debate its budget in May.

"While I have so many senators here, I would say that for $10.2 million more — and this is a big budget and I recognize the fact that there are a lot of pressures — but for $10.2 million more, we could keep tuition even for the year," Meehan told the Higher Education Committee. "That's what was in the budget that we submitted to the governor, to the House and to the Senate, and we think that's a $10.2 million investment that is a significant investment and would go a long way, at least when it comes to the University of Massachusetts."

Meehan has suggested that UMass would bump tuition up by about 2.5 percent if they do not receive their $568 million request. He repeated that figure in response to a question from Fitchburg Republican Sen. Dean Tran.

"We're going to try to keep tuition increases around the rate of inflation," Meehan said.

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The university serves 75,000 students, including 56,000 Massachusetts residents.

UMass in 2018 raised its tuition 2.5 percent for in-state undergraduates, or an average $351 per student, marking the fourth straight year of tuition hikes for UMass students after a two-year freeze that ended in 2015. Out-of-state tuition went up 3 percent, or an average $938 per student.

On WCVB's "On the Record" Sunday, co-host Ed Harding asked Gov. Charlie Baker if he takes Meehan's "threat" of higher tuition without the extra $10 million seriously.

"I prefer to think of it as a conversation as opposed to a threat," Baker replied, going on to note that numbers in the budget will be "fluid" until after the Senate has passed its budget and the two branches negotiate a final spending plan.

Baker's budget provided UMass with $38.8 million more than this year's projected spending. The governor categorized that as a "pretty significant increase."

Meehan said it is important that both Baker and the House funded the university's collective bargaining costs.

Last year, the House and Senate each gave UMass the same amount in their budgets: $518,917,080.

The Senate budget will be released this month and will be the first for new Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodrigues of Westport, whose Senate district is adjacent to the UMass-Dartmouth campus. In 1983, Rodrigues graduated from Southeastern Massachusetts University, which eventually became UMass-Dartmouth.


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