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Fees set to go up at state colleges

By Wesley Lowery
Globe Correspondent / July 2, 2012
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Students who attend most Massachusetts state universities will have to dig deeper in their wallets for the next academic year as schools increase annual fees.

Eight of the nine state universities have approved fee hikes averaging about 6 percent, a Globe review has found.

College affordability advocates say that the increases, which coincide with a 4.9 percent fee increase for campuses in the separate

UMass system, will add to the financial burden on students from low-income families. University officials counter that a decline in state funding has left them with no other option to cover growing operational costs.

“We put a lot of resources into student success programs, hiring faculty, and prioritizing student retention,” said Fred Clark, executive vice president of Bridgewater State University, which has approved a 6.6 percent student-fee increase for next year. “And that costs a lot of money.”

For a student at Bridgewater State, the increase will mean an extra $500 next year. That will bring the annual cost for an in-state student — including tuition, fees, and room and board — to $18,645.

Much of the additional money will help finance Bridgewater’s new $100 million science building and pay the salaries of new professors hired under the university’s faculty expansion plan, Clark said. About a quarter of the new fee money will be used for financial aid, in addition to a wide variety of university activities.

The eight state universities raising fees for the 2012-2013 academic year are: Bridgewater State, Fitchburg State, Framingham State, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Mass. Maritime, Salem State, and Worcester State. It remained unclear whether Westfield State was pursuing an increase.

Unlike the five-campus

UMass system, whose fee hikes must be approved by an appointed Board of Trustees, the state universities can sign off on increases themselves.

In the past decade, fees at the state universities have more than tripled, to an average of $6,373 for the 2010-2011 academic year, according to the state Department of Higher Education. Costs for room and board have also steadily increased, but annual tuition, set by the state, has largely remained steady over that time, and is still under $1,000 at most schools.

“The state hasn’t really increased financial aid allocations for public higher education in the last decade,” Clark said. “We’re trying to make up the difference.”

Heather Johnson, spokeswoman for the state’s executive office for education, said that “keeping public higher education affordable and within reach of all Massachusetts students is key to future growth, and the governor knows there is more to be done on that front. As the Commonwealth’s economy continues to recover, we remain hopeful that we will be able to support an even greater investment in our public higher education system.”

Earlier this month, Governor Deval Patrick clashed with UMass officials over the system’s 4.9 percent fee hike, saying it was coming at a “crummy time” for Bay State families still struggling with the lingering effects of the economic slowdown.

Of the colleges not in the UMass system, the largest increase is at MassArt, which has approved a 7.2 percent hike.

Like many of the schools instituting fee hikes, MassArt says it will counter the move by committing an additional $700,000 to financial aid, a 28 percent increase from last year, according to a university spokeswoman.

Worcester State, which has signed off on a $500 fee increase (or about 6.6 percent) for the fall, also plans to raise financial aid.

“There was little choice, given the fact that funding from the Commonwealth has fallen 23 percent since 2003, and we remain committed to academic excellence,” said Lea Ann Scales, assistant vice president for public relations and marketing at Worcester State. “The university trustees don’t do this lightly.’’

Bob Giannino-Racine, CEO of Access, a nonprofit financial-aid counseling service based in Boston, said fee increases are especially tough on students paying their own way.

“When fees increase but tuition stays flat, many students don’t realize that their cost of education is rising,” he said.

But Joel Devine, 19, who will be a sophomore at Bridgewater in the fall, is acutely aware of the rising price of a college education.

“I only applied to Bridgewater because it was cheaper,” said Devine, a criminal justice major from Mansfield.

He said he is paying for school himself and he took on a full-time landscaping job this summer to help cover the costs. But with the fee increase, he said, he may need to borrow money to attend next semester.

“It’s not that big of an issue for me because I’m only there for the fall semester, and then I’m going into the Marine Corps,” he said, adding that he plans to return to school after his military service.

Globe correspondent Alli Knothe contributed to this article. Wesley Lowery can be reached at wesley.lowery@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.

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