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UMass system gets $479M funding, tuition and mandatory fee freeze until 2015


University of Massachusetts President Robert L. Caret praised state government leaders last week for their decision to “stand with UMass and open an important new era in our university’s history.”

The fiscal year 2014 state budget signed into law by the governor last week provides $479 million in state funding for the five-campus UMass system — a $39 million, or 9 percent, increase over the funding UMass received in the fiscal year that ended on June 30 — and enough to trigger a tuition and mandatory fee freeze during the 2013-2014 academic year. The budget also contains language calling for a second major increase in 2014-2015 — an increase that would trigger a second tuition and fee freeze, UMass officials said.

“This is about providing opportunity and building a bridge to the future and Governor Patrick, Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Murray are to be commended for vision and their bold leadership,” UMass President Caret said.

The first step that led to the funding increase was taken in January, when Gov. Patrick proposed $479 million in funding for UMass. The House approved $479 million for UMass in its version of the budget and prevailed in conference after the Senate opted for a lower figure.

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, those figures were reversed: The state paid 57 percent and students 43 percent.

Under the proposal put forward by Caret, the state would provide UMass with nearly $100 million in additional funding over the next two years, thereby achieving a 50-50 balance in 2014-2015. UMass would freeze tuition and the mandatory curriculum fee during each of the next two academic years as long as sufficient funding was approved.

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 fiscal year 1998, UMass received $405 million from the state, and when this century began in fiscal year 2000, 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 initiated $68 million in expense reductions over the past five years. UMass officials said they expect to save another $123 million over the next five years by reducing energy expenditures, improving purchasing practices and streamlining information technology operations.

“On behalf of the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees, I want to thank Governor Patrick for his confidence in us and thank the Legislature for its outstanding and deeply appreciated support,” said Henry M. Thomas III, chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees. “Massachusetts is sending a national message of support for public higher education and is making an important investment in its future.”