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UMass trustees back 15-percent fee hike

Measure boosts costs to $11,000; full board to vote

By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / February 21, 2009
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Trustees at the University of Massachusetts backed a $1,500 increase in student fees yesterday, a 15 percent increase that would bring annual tuition and fee costs for in-state undergraduates to an average of $11,000.

The controversial measure still needs final approval by the full board, which meets Feb. 27. Yesterday's vote was taken by a finance subcommittee.

University officials said funding from the recently approved federal stimulus package could reduce or eliminate the fee hike, which would take effect next academic year.

"This increase is designed to preserve academic quality and to ensure stability, but if federal dollars can be substituted for student dollars, we will eagerly rebate some or all of this increase," said UMass system president Jack M. Wilson.

Trustees had previously postponed a vote on the fee increase, voicing reservations about its impact on families hit hard by the recession. While supporting the increase yesterday, they also voted to freeze most voluntary student fees.

University officials said the increase is needed to tackle a $100 million budget deficit brought on by heavy losses in state subsidies. The extra revenue would also bolster financial aid so that the university can cover the costs of tuition and fees of in-state undergraduates whose families earn less than the state's annual median income of $78,500.

The stimulus legislation authorizes an additional $3.3 million in federal financial aid to low-income students, university officials said.

During the past six years, UMass has increased its financial aid budget from $35.6 million to $94.2 million.

The five-campus system is also reducing spending by about $50 million, university officials said. Wilson said eliminating the budget deficit entirely through spending cuts would force extensive layoffs and enrollment reductions.

Wilson also announced a salary freeze for administrators earning $120,000 and above. The freeze, which will affect 315 administrators, begins immediately and will run until the end of the 2010 fiscal year. Many highly compensated employees had already seen their wages frozen this year and had taken two-week furloughs with no pay.

Wilson said further layoffs and furloughs may be necessary in the coming months.

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