UMass struggles to draw natives

Monday September 6, 2010

AMHERST (AP) -- The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is in a tough competition with other state schools seen by many students in Massachusetts as better choices.

The number of undergraduates from Massachusetts at the University of Connecticut has risen 70 percent in the past decade while the number of Connecticut students enrolled at UMass Amherst dropped by 5.5 percent.

Enrollment by Massachusetts students jumped 60 percent at the University of New Hampshire and 50 percent at the University of Vermont.

For many Massachusetts families choosing colleges, UMass Amherst, the state's flagship state campus, is not good enough.

UMass Amherst has been hurt by budget cuts, and the average SAT scores of incoming students, freshman retention rates and graduation rates lag behind those of its peers.

Chancellor Robert Holub has established goals such as increasing the size and prestige of the faculty, generating more cutting-edge research, updating facilities and tapping alumni to help build the school's endowment.

"It can be better and we're going to make it better," Holub said.

"We are the state's flagship, but we have to assume that role and do things that are going to let people know that they are going to get an excellent education and all the benefits that come along with the public research institution that we have."

Edward Blaguszewski, a spokesman for UMass Amherst, said the new class is the largest ever for the school, growing by 350 out-of-state freshmen "so we are clearly appealing to out-of-staters," he said.

The class of 2014 numbers about 4,500 students selected from a record 31,000 applicants, the university said.

Many students who look out of state also say they are drawn to a school spirit at public campuses such as Michigan, Wisconsin, UConn and UNC that have winning athletic programs attracting national attention and name recognition. The UMass football team competes in the Division 1 Football Championship Subdivision.

In addition, the Amherst campus has lost nearly a fifth of its tenure-track faculty over the past two decades as a result of the state's financial woes, leaving only 972 permanent faculty on a campus of 20,000 undergraduates. In comparison, the 17,000-student UConn employs 1,286 tenure-track professors.

UMass's English department, once 100 strong, has dwindled to 43 professors.

"It's been difficult, very difficult," said Joseph Bartolomeo, the English department chairman. "We struggle to get back to an earlier level and then there's another cut. That is very demoralizing for the faculty."

In the past five years, Massachusetts has cut public higher-education appropriations per student by more than 13 percent. State support per student nationwide grew an average 4 percent, according a report by State Higher Education Executive Officers.

Only four other states -- New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont -- cut more higher-education funding per student.

The state has budgeted $465 million -- including $40 million in one-time federal stimulus money -- for the UMass system, less than it spent 10 years ago. State funding makes up 25 percent of UMass Amherst's revenues, compared with 40 percent in 2000.

As a result, UMass officials have raised tuition and fees.


Information from: The Boston Globe,


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