$1500 Student Fee Increase Temporarily Tabled

Caleb Nelson

The Board of Trustees vote on a plan to raise UMass student fees by $1,500 a semester was postponed last week by a vote of 6 to 5, allowing time for further review of the University’s current budget cuts, with the hope that the Financial Stimulus Package would help to adjust the 10% cut to higher education funding in the current 2010 Massachusetts budget.

This plan raises student fees 15%, making the University price tag average $11,600 per year without living expenses. It would generate about $68 million in new revenue, and the University will use some of this money to expand its financial aid program, offering aid to students whose families earn up to $78,500, the average state income.

In an aggressive move to maintain University diversity despite the fee hike, about 28% of student fees have been allocated to Financial Aid-up from 20% last year. This policy reflects a trend among private universities in the Boston area.

Over the past six years the UMass system has become increasingly dependent on student fees since state support for higher education has steadily declined. Some trustees of the UMass system at the board meeting last Thursday argued that this trend will continue. Several people felt that delaying the vote further was fruitless.

“I’m disappointed with the decision today,” said Judy Keyes, Director of Student Financial Management at UMB. “There are a lot of families out there waiting on a decision about financial aid, and we can’t tell them anything until we know how much funding we are getting”

The vote was rescheduled for this Thursday at 8 am at the UMass headquarters located at 225 Franklin St, 33rd floor in downtown Boston. Many of the trustees as well as UMB faculty believe that a fee increase is vital to preserving the quality of education at the University.

“We have a good plan here for making sure that low and middle income students are able to afford tuition. I think ample thought went into it,” said Keyes.

UMB Student Trustee Alex Kulenovic argued at the board meeting that the decision was hasty, stating that fees are nearly impossible to get rolled back once they have been voted into place.

“I personally heard the finalized details of the policy from a Boston Globe journalist three days ago,” he said. “Acting on this vote now, I argue, would be irresponsible, and unconscionable.”

A large number of UMB students work multiple jobs in order to afford their education, said Kulenovic; the beauty of the UMB campus is its diversity. He is concerned that a trend toward reliance on wealthier students would change the dynamic at UMB.

“When the University begins to rely more and more on wealthier students to (A) finance this program [financial aid], and (B) just finance its operation in general, our student body may tend to get wealthier. There are private universities in the Boston area that have gone through this transformation, largely as a result of policies like this.”

Kulenovic went on to comment on student turnout at the board meeting. These decisions happen regularly, he said, and student presence can make a difference.

“This is the first time in the history of the UMass system that trustees at any level and in any way voted against a fee increase,” Kulenovic said.

State funding for the University of Massachusetts system drops next year from $470 million to $416 million. This budget deficit forces the University onto another plateau of self-reliance unless current trustee and student efforts to restore state funding succeed.

Caleb Nelson can be reached at [email protected]