Student Fee Hike Passed at Preliminary Board Meeting

Caleb Nelson

A $1,500 student fee hike passed with a 7 to 2 vote in a preliminary board meeting on Friday. The plan, including a $3.3 million increase in financial aid money, will be voted into policy on Friday, February 27 at the UMass Dartmouth Campus. A total of $102 million has been cut in state funding for the 2010 University budget-Amherst, Dartmouth, Lowell, Worchester, and Boston campuses combined.

State funding to UMB has increased steadily since 1985; the University’s deficit lies in its growth. A look at the budget for the past three years shows a 16.6 percent or $15 million increase in State funding ($94,185,200 in 2006 to $109,865,200 in 2008). Student population and fees have also increased in the past three years generating $24 million, a 32.4 percent increase, toward UMB growth.

Recent State budget cuts will sink State funding below 2006 levels, creating a $17.2 million budget gap for the UMB campus. This undermines the University’s growth of the past three years, and also makes further growth impossible, UMB Chancellor Keith Motley said at a student info forum held last week in anticipation of the trustee’s vote.

“Growth can be very important to building a stronger university over time,” said Motley. “It is a complex phenomenon so it’s not about just having more students…we need to think about making our students successful once they graduate.”

The deficit plus $3.6 million in projected growth for 2010, which includes $2.6 million for new faculty, and $1 million for new buildings, will be drawn from the student fee increase.

Even with fee increases there will be at least a $4 million deficit which will be filled by the rigorous review of the various University budgets, said Ellen O’Connor, Vice Chancellor for Administration & Finance; this will involve trimming some elusive fat.

“I urge you to think seriously about supporting these fee increases,” said O’Connor. “I know that it is going to be difficult for students. We are going to try to buffer it, but the alternative is reduction in the size and scope and complexity of our school, and I think that that will be a very harmful thing to the value of the education here.”

The buffer UMB is offering will be a devotion of 28% of the new fee increase to the financial aid program, which in turn will significantly lessen the amount of money that can be allocated to the University’s Operating Budget. UMB Student Trustee, Alex Kulenovic, is not convinced that this will work the way the University hopes.

“Students who are on the fringes and who are struggling right now are going to be the ones who are going to have a lot of trouble because of this situation,” said Kulenovic. “What we are setting ourselves up for is a totally different student body down the line.”

Chancellor Motley replied, referring to his experience working for Northeastern University as well as other state schools, where he said he saw positive growth, while the University maintained an urban mission. He has the same vision for UMB.

“If someone is keeping their eye on the ball, you can keep the demographics from changing,” said Motley. “I’ve heard these same kinds of discussions and arguments previously, and they are the right discussions and arguments.”

Other state universities may provide a good model for UMB administrators, but they also provide a number of lessons in poor management of financial aid, said Kaitlin Valli, a graduate of Delaware State University.

“My friends from school who could afford to take on internships over the summer were the ones that ended up with jobs in their field after college,” Valli explained. “People who have to work blue collar jobs through the summers just to support themselves have a hard time being competitive entering the work force with their degree.”

UMB’s student body is made up largely of people holding on to one if not several jobs in order to afford their education, said Kulenovic. The challenge for this improved financial aid program is to ensure that students are afforded every opportunity to be competitive in the job market.