By Michael Norton
State House News Service
With final levels of state assistance still up in the air, the University of Massachusetts Board on Wednesday authorized increases in student charges for the upcoming academic year of up to 4.9 percent while stipulating that tuition and mandatory fees will remain frozen if the public university system receives a $39 million funding bump from Beacon Hill.
The House this spring recommended $479 million in fiscal 2014 funding for UMass while the Senate passed a budget with $455 million for the five-campus university. UMass this fiscal year received $439 million in state aid. A six-member conference committee is working to recommend a final level of state assistance.
As part of an effort to boost state funding to levels where the state and students provide equal shares, UMass officials have pledged to freeze tuition and fees for two years if that 50-50 split is achieved.
The board met in Lowell Wednesday morning to vote on how to proceed on tuition and fees.
"Because the state budget has not been finalized, we find ourselves with the need to give President (Robert) Caret the authority to raise tuition and fees if ... and only if ... state funding comes in at a figure lower than the $479 million proposed by the Governor and already approved by the House," board chairman Henry Thomas said in a statement. "It is our fervent hope that the state budget conference committee will embrace the higher funding level approved by the House and that this increase will be signed into law by the Governor. If that happens, we will happily go forward with the tuition and fee freeze as envisioned under President Caret's 50-50 plan."
Under the board's vote, tuition and fees could be raised up to 4.9 percent, with the exact amounts tied to the level of funding received from the state.
The board's vote could focus more attention on state assistance to the university since so many students stand to be directly affected by the outcome of state budget talks. There were nearly 71,000 students enrolled at UMass campuses in the fall of 2012. UMass officials say 75 percent of their undergraduates are graduating with debt, and that average student debt is close to $28,500, up from nearly $21,000 five years ago.
According to UMass officials, students and their families this year supplied 57 percent of the $1.3 billion needed for educational programs, while five years ago students and families provided 43 percent and the state paid 57 percent.
UMass received $405 million in state funding in fiscal 1998, $456 million in fiscal 2000, and this year received $439 million from the state.
University spokesman Robert Connolly said a final decision by university officials on tuition and fees would need to be made sometime in July because of the need to send bills.
Senate President Therese Murray said Tuesday she hoped budget negotiators would agree on a consensus bill by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, but said a temporary budget might be needed to cover spending in the interim.
The six lawmakers working on a final $34 billion budget bill have closed their proceedings to outsiders.