Saturday, 2:15 PM
(Peter Pereira/The Standard Times via AP)
Students protested as the board of trustees approved the fee hike.
By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff
Trustees at the University of Massachusetts gave final approval today to a $1,500 increase in student fees amid calls to defer the hike until state officials allocate hundreds of millions in federal stimulus money earmarked for education.
The 15 percent increase, the largest in several years, brings annual tuition costs for in-state undergraduates to an average of $11,000 for the next academic year, not including room and board.
But officials said they would provide rebates for some or all of the increase if the university receives federal money, and Umass president Jack Wilson said officials are aggressively lobbying for the funds.
“We view the federal stimulus process with great anticipation and hope that we will be able to replace student dollars with federal dollars,” said Wilson, who described the increase as a “responsible, balanced step” in response to reduced financial support from the commonwealth.
University officials say the fee hike is necessary to help cover a projected $100 million budget deficit across the five-campus system. The university also plans to reduce spending by $50 million, and substantially boost financial aid.
Trustees approved the controversial measure by a 12 to 4 margin. More than 100 students attended the meeting, held at UMass Dartmouth, to register their opposition to the hike.
Critics say the increase will price out financially struggling families who are turning to the public system in strong numbers for its lower cost.
Ferd Wulkan, coordinator for the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, an advocacy group, criticized the fee increase as “premature and excessive.” He called upon state leaders to subsidize the university more generously to make it more affordable for families.
“This should be a time to invest in public education,” he said.
Paul Reville, the state’s education secretary and a UMass trustee, supported the increase, calling it “a tough action, but the right thing to do” given the university’s budget gap.
Reville said he is confident higher education will receive some support from the federal stimulus package but said it would take likely several months to determine how much.
“It’s unclear when the aid will be available and how much it will be,” he said in an interview after the vote.
The bolstered aid, along with increases in federal grants for low-income students, would allow the university to cover the full cost of tuition and fees for most families who make less than the state median income of $78,500.
UMass students who received aid this year paid an average net cost -- for tuition, fees, and room and board -- of $13,293.