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UMass president applauds House budget proposal

University of Massachusetts President Robert L. Caret praised the state budget approved last week by the House Ways and Means Committee

Banner Staff | 4/18/2013, noon

University of Massachusetts President Robert L. Caret praised the state budget approved last week by the House Ways and Means Committee, saying it would satisfy the university’s request for the Commonwealth to assume 50 percent of the cost of educating UMass students.

“We are very pleased to see the House budget embrace our call for a 50-50 approach to funding core educational programs at the University of Massachusetts,” said President Caret. “We hope it’s a sign that the Commonwealth is poised to become one of the few states in the nation bucking the trend of defunding public higher education.”

The $33.8 billion state budget proposal the House committee approved includes an additional $39 million for the UMass system’s education budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. That figure, combined with other portions of the state budget supporting UMass, would allow the Commonwealth to cover for one year 50 percent of students’ mandatory tuition and fees.

The university had proposed, given the state’s fiscal challenges, that funding increases to reach the 50-50 split could be phased in over a two-year period; the House budget includes language committing the state to reach that level of funding in two years. In exchange, the university’s Board of Trustees has pledged to approve a two-year freeze in tuition and fees.

“Should the Commonwealth ultimately decide to provide us with the 50-50 funding over two years, the Board of Trustees stands ready to freeze tuition and fees at their current levels for two years, which would benefit students throughout the UMass system and strike a blow against rising student charges and rising debt,” said Henry M. Thomas III, chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees.

Faced with the prospect of student charges continually increasing and state support per student declining, President Caret last year proposed the 50-50 concept, under which the state and students would split the cost of the student’s education.

In Fiscal Year 2008, the state provided 57 percent of the funding for UMass educational programs and students and their families contributed 43 percent through tuition and fees. For Fiscal Year 2013, the percentages are reversed, with students providing 57 percent and the state providing 43 percent of the cost.

Caret said the House budget proposal represents a vote of confidence in the University’s efforts to become more transparent as well as more cost-efficient.

The UMass system has reduced expenses by nearly $68 million since Fiscal Year 2008, and has other cost-saving initiatives underway that would trim $94 million more over the next few years. In February, the university released a report called “UMass Performance: Accountable and On the Move,” aimed at making it easier for the public to monitor its performance in a number of key areas, ranging from improving student graduation rates to increasing alumni giving to investing in campus facilities.

Material provided by UMass contributed to this report.