Freeze on UMass tuition possible, says VP, citing legislative vote

The University of Massachusetts could freeze tuition and fees for in-state undergraduate students next year, a UMass official said on Monday, if lawmakers agree to a $26 million funding increase. Otherwise, a fifth consecutive year of tuition hikes could be on the horizon.

Lisa Calise, senior vice president of administration and finance at UMass, who presented the university’s fiscal 2020 funding request to legislative budget writers, said that the $568.3 million ask for the five-campus system is a $26.2 million increase over fiscal 2019.

“UMass has worked to maintain a low cost per student, and we will be able to do so by freezing tuition for in-state undergraduates if our FY ‘20 budget request is fully funded at $568.3 million,” Calise told the Joint Ways and Means Committee. “Without full funding of that budget request, the university will need to implement modest and reasonable tuition increases for FY ‘20.”

Calise called the request “an attempt to mitigate tuition increases.” She said nearly $12 million would fund collective bargaining increases and the remainder would go toward fixed costs, including financial aid.

In his budget request, Gov. Charlie Baker funded the UMass line item at $558 million.

Responding to a question from Rep. Hannah Kane, Calise said the state appropriation in fiscal 2019 covered approximately 22 percent of the university’s $3.4 billion overall budget.

In 2018, UMass raised tuition by 2.5 percent for in-state undergraduates, or an average $351 per student, marking the fourth straight year of tuition hikes for UMass students after a two-year freeze that ended in 2015. Out-of-state tuition went up 3 percent, or an average of $938 per student.

When UMass trustees approved the 2.5 percent bump last July, the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) noted that the increase was smaller than previous years but said it would put “a college education out of reach of thousands more students and families and add even more debt onto the already massive debt burden forced upon Massachusetts students and families.”

PHENOM is hosting an advocacy day at the State House on Thursday (March 21) where students from UMass, state universities, and community colleges are scheduled to participate.