BOSTON (State House News Service) - University of Massachusetts student trustees are pushing for the Senate to join the House and Gov. Deval Patrick in funding the public university at a high enough level to stave off tuition and fee increases.
"Affordability and student debt are serious concerns for working- and middle-class families across the Commonwealth. A tuition and fee freeze would represent real progress and send a national message of support for public universities, a skilled future workforce and a strong economy," the student trustees said in a statement released Monday morning.
Patrick made new education spending a centerpiece of his $1.9 billion tax plan, putting in place $478.7 million for UMass in fiscal year 2014. That's enough new state funding to enable the state and students to evenly split the costs of attending UMass, and for university officials to freeze tuition and fees.
While the Legislature reduced the tax bill to roughly $500 million, the House included $478.8 million for UMass in the budget it approved in April, while the Senate Ways and Means Committee recommended a $16 million increase to $454.8 million in the budget marked for debate beginning Wednesday morning.
Student trustees are backing a Sen. Michael Moore (D-Millbury) amendment that would boost the UMass funding up to $478.7 million with the condition that the university not increase fees. Moore co-chairs the Legislature's Higher Education Committee.
UMass President Robert Caret said the House's funding level would allow the university to freeze fees and tuition over the next two years.
"We are grateful that President Caret and the University leadership are seeking to strike a balance with the state to reverse a skewed funding formula. In the last decade alone, state appropriations per full-time student for UMass fell by nearly 30 percent -- costs that students and their families must now bear. This is a direction that we must immediately seek to change," the trustees wrote.
"This is a historic opportunity that Massachusetts must seize. It is a chance for the Commonwealth to show that it values quality public higher education and the goal of making it accessible and affordable to students regardless of their economic standing."
The student trustees are Jennifer Healy, of UMass Amherst; Alexis Marvel, of UMass Boston; Joshua Encarnacion, of UMass Dartmouth; Phillip J. Geoffroy, of UMass Lowell; and Brian Quattrochi, UMass Worcester. Last year, the two voting student trustees on the UMass Board of Trustees were split in voting on whether to increase tuition and fees by 4.9 percent.
In a recent Fall River Herald News op-ed, Revenue Committee Cochairman Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), whose district includes UMass Dartmouth, referenced "harrowing weeks" at the campus where Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a student. Rodrigues said a funding boost for the university would in part show that students are not being "penalized" because of the bombing.
Saying students and their families this year are providing 57 percent of funding through tuition and fees
and the state the remaining 43 percent, Rodrigues urged the Senate to "stand with UMass."
"In doing so, the Senate would be striking a blow for quality and affordability, would be bucking the national trend that has seen most states cut back on funding for public higher education and would also be sending an important message to UMass Dartmouth students and to students across the UMass system," Rodrigues wrote. "And that message would be: You will not be penalized because of the tragic and inexplicable acts of a former student and because of the misguided actions of three people accused of providing him subsequent support."
Senate Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg, a Democrat whose district includes the UMass Amherst campus, said last week that he supports ramping up state support for education funding, but would not offer a budget amendment out of deference to the work done by Ways and Means on the budget and the negotiations that will take place with the House after the Senate approves its budget.
"Obviously as an advocate for public higher education, I want it much faster than that but I also know this is a process. I'm feeling hopeful that by the end of the process we can have a strong budget for public higher education on the governor's desk," Rosenberg told the News Service.
Copyright State House News Service