Collision Course in the Unsustainable Costs of Higher Education


Coming as UMass administrators have finalized their decision to raise tuition and fees on most campuses for the first time in three academic years, a Hildreth Institute study found that the decline in Government support for higher education over the past two decades has made it increasingly difficult for low-income students in the state to earn a four-year college degree.

We suggest that this barrier also applies to middle-class applicants.

The Hildreth study found that while state funding for public higher education declined by 20% per full-time student from 2001 to 2020, tuition and fees at four-year institutions increased an average of 59%.

Financial aid has also not kept pace with rising costs; it fell 35% for full-time students at a time when median household incomes rose 13%, the report said.

Meanwhile, signaling the end of a pandemic-era freeze, tuition on all University of Massachusetts campuses will increase this fall.

UMass trustees voted 12 to 2 last week to approve tuition and fee hikes. Two student administrators, Derek Houle of UMass Lowell and Narcisse Kunda of UMass Dartmouth, cast the only dissenting votes.

UMass in-state undergraduates will see their tuition increase by 2.5% in the 2022-23 academic year.

Out-of-state undergraduates face similar tuition increases, as do all graduate students at the Amherst, Boston and Lowell campuses.

UMass had suspended annual tuition increases at its four non-medical campuses for the past two years to help offset the effects of COVID-19, a decision according to UMass President Marty Meehan, who said cost the system about $32 million in revenue.

Meehan said seeking another tuition freeze would not be “sustainable” in the current economic climate.

“Here is the challenge we face: The annual inflation rate in the United States has now accelerated to a four-decade high of 8.5%. This is the biggest increase since December 1981,” Meehan said at the board meeting.

For in-state undergraduates, combined annual tuition and mandatory fees will increase in fiscal year 2023 to $16,952 at UMass Amherst, $15,172 at UMass Boston, $14,854 at UMass Dartmouth and $16,182 to UMass Lowell.

Meehan said students will share nearly $1 billion in financial aid from federal, state and UMass sources, with the university system providing $373 million of that support; Meehan said that was an increase of 8% from the previous year and more than 15% since taking office in 2015.

Education advocates have long urged Massachusetts lawmakers to rethink the extent to which they fund higher education.

Last week, House Democratic leaders unveiled their proposed state budget for fiscal year 2023, which would increase state funding for the UMass system to $653 million. That’s far more than the approximately $580 million recommended by Governor Charlie Baker.

Despite significant academic advances made in recent years, the UMass system still seems to operate in the shadow of the state’s longstanding coterie of highly selective private universities. This has led to a lack of financial commitment in states where public universities form the foundation of the higher education system.

All of this puts increasing pressure on high school graduates, who might conclude that the cost of a four-year education at a public college just doesn’t add up.

A community college offers a viable option, either as a way to gain an employable skill or as a less expensive route to that four-year degree.

Either way, we are at a crossroads with the escalating cost of college education.

Left unchecked, a four-year college degree will soon become a luxury few can afford.


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