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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass Boston’s Looming $30 Million Deficit: Past, Present, And Future

In the midst of ongoing construction and new additions to the administration, the growing budget deficit of the University of Massachusetts Boston and the administration’s financial management remain important topics among students, faculty, and other members of the campus community, as well as state officials and the media landscape.

With the addition of Barry Mills to the administration, it is becoming more and more evident that the university is looking for any and all solutions to keep the financial troubles at bay. Members of the university’s Board of Trustees have decided to bring in Mills, who served as the president of Bowdoin College for fourteen years until 2015, so that he can use his experience to help manage UMass Boston’s problematic fiscal situation. Mills will be paid less than Chancellor J. Keith Motley ($250,000 per year compared to Motley’s salary that exceeds $400,000) and will not enjoy all the same benefits as the latter, but he will guide and significatnly influence the day-to-day operations at the university, especially regarding UMass Boston’s finances.

Mills was hired as Deputy Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer in the midst of troublesome times; students are facing tuition increases, departments have to adjust to cuts, professors have to manage larger class sizes and less resources, and the school’s deficit is increasing steadily. According to current estimations, the university could face a deficit of around $30 million by July, which marks the end of the fiscal year 2017.

Last year, the university’s leadership was looking more optimistically toward the financial capability of the campus. Due to a 5.9 percent (7 percent for graduate students) increase of tuition and fees, which was implemented across the whole UMass system at the beginning of the 2016/2017 academic year, the administration was expecting a financial boost that was urgently needed in the then-upcoming fiscal year.

Later on in November, the Chancellor also officially announced plans to strategically decrease spending. The measures included a hiring freeze “with rare exceptions in cases of critical strategic need” (UMass Boston’s recent hiring of Mills is one of those exceptions), an increase of average class sizes to 18 students, reductions in the shuttle bus service, revision of academic programs, and other cost-saving efforts. In this announcement, the Chancellor explained the immediate necessity of these proposed actions, saying, “The reductions […] will bring us closer to aligning expenses with expected revenue, but they will not completely eliminate the existing deficit.”

Following these initial cost-saving measures in March of this year, the university’s leadership announced another round of spending reductions that would make up an additional $3 million in budget cuts.

According to a statement by Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Winston Langley, “Some of the [previous] spending reductions identified had not come to fruition, or are still being evaluated/potentially considered,” and therefore the university’s administration decided to have the provost’s office “absorb the resulting shortfall.”

As a result of this new deficit to the provost’s account, new cost-saving measures were introduced to its operations, such as elimination of non-essential printing, copying services, or office supplies; cancellation of conference sponsorship or attendance; and tempered reductions of faculty, staff, and student support.

“There will undoubtedly be additional short- and long-term consequences that will result that we will have to deal with as a community,” Langley predicted.

Mills has not yet announced any concrete steps in how to further deal with the looming deficit and stabilize UMass Boston’s budget in the midst of extensive construction operations as part of the 25 Year Master Plan, which have taken longer and become more expensive than initially anticipated.

Furthermore, UMass Boston is still working on improving its decreasing cash inflow from fundraising while receiving less state funding than in previous decades (only 29.5 percent of the university’s budget is state funded compared to 75 percent in 1985). However, the campus community is still waiting to see what the future holds. After seemingly chaotic fiscal years, the likelihood of further budget cuts and fee increases appears to be very real.

Yet among all these changes, there is also positive news emerging. Only recently, a 3.9 megawatt solar installation was completed on the rooftops of the Boston Business Park. Altus Power, which owns the array, will sell the produced clean energy to UMass Boston through a Net Metering Credit Purchase Agreement. 

“[This agreement] is a utility billing mechanism that enables the offtaker to receive energy credits on its utility bill from a remotely-located installation,” according to an official press release by Competitive Energy Service (CES), Umass Boston’s advisor in this project. CES predicts that through this project, the university could save up to $5 million in energy costs over the next 20 years.