Legislators scrap UMass tuition freeze in finally approving a $43.1 billion budget

The approval on Monday of a $43.1 billion state budget resolves a question that had kept University of Massachusetts officials from setting tuition rates for this fall, although students have longer still to wait before they know what their final cost will be.

UMass trustees last week postponed a planned vote on tuition and fees for the school year that begins in September, with school officials saying they first needed to see the outcome of the state budget deliberations that stretched three weeks into the fiscal year.

That vote has not yet been rescheduled as of Monday evening, about six weeks before the start of fall classes for the roughly 75,000 UMass students.

While both the House and the Senate funded UMass at $558 million, the Senate included a prohibition on raising tuition or fees for in-state undergraduates. That tuition freeze, which UMass officials said would force cuts across its campuses, was scrapped during negotiations and not included in the final budget sent to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk on Monday, clearing the path for a potential increase to student charges.

Although budget negotiators increased their revenue estimate by nearly $600 million and then allocated those funds for spending and savings, they did not appropriate additional money for UMass, where officials said they would need an extra $10 million to freeze tuition without making cuts elsewhere.

Sen. Nick Collins, a South Boston Democrat whose district includes the UMass Boston campus, said he was “okay with” the budget conferees’ decision to drop the tuition freeze language.

“We’ve got some work to do with UMass Boston, both as relates to what we’re doing here in the Legislature, but also Bayside, and what that development can do to really reset the campus and the financial situation,” he told the News Service, referring to the $235 million long-term deal to redevelop the former Bayside Expo Center site next to the Dorchester campus.

Collins said he was happy with the $39 million increase to the UMass line item, which, he said, “shows the commitment the Legislature continues to have to supporting UMass and its students.”

Asked if he was concerned students might end up paying more this fall, Collins said, “I’m most concerned about the fiscal footing of not just the system, but particularly the UMass Boston campus, and we’re going to continue working with them on that.”

The spending bill lawmakers in both branches agreed to on Monday calls for each center and institute at UMass Boston to be funded “at an amount not less than in fiscal year 2018.”