Late budget means late financial aid at UMass

Meehan eyeing a 2.5 percent tuition hike

THE LATE STATE budget has created downstream delays for the University of Massachusetts, postponing a tuition hike, which is expected to be 2.5 percent, and the delivery of financial aid packages, which are already around a month late.

“We’re always advocating as hard as we can for more state dollars. At the same time, we respect the process, and we’re happy just to be able to get the process moving and get out our financial aid forms to all of our students,” UMass President Marty Meehan said after testifying to a legislative committee on Thursday.

Ideally the financial aid packages would have gone out to prospective students in June, said Meehan, who said it is “challenging” to send them out so late. “Our campuses are communicating with prospective students right now to let them know what the likely financial aid would be,” Meehan said.

It will take a little more time for the university, and others who rely on state budget funding, to have certainty about fiscal 2020 spending levels. Lawmakers passed the final $43.1 billion budget bill on Monday, but Gov. Charlie Baker has until next Friday, Aug. 2, to decide what portions to sign into law, which items to veto, and which provisions to send back with amendments.

Meanwhile, at the university’s biggest campus, UMass Amherst, classes are due to begin on Sept. 3. The other undergraduate campuses’ calendars also call for classes to begin that week.

“We believe that we have all of the financial aid packages together for all of our freshmen, and we’re developing a program so that we’ll have all of our financial aid together for upper-classman,” Meehan said. “The campuses have been assuming that there would be an increase in tuition of about 2 ½ percent. And because of that, they have financial aid packages that are ready to take a share of that and put into financial aid packages.”

The final state budget did not include a provision proposed by the Senate that would have established a freeze on tuitions and fees, and Meehan said it also fell about $10.2 million short of the funding needed to avoid tuition increases.

Lawmakers agreed to provide $558 million in funding for the university for the 2019-2020 academic year.

The tuition rate is intrinsically tied with the amount of financial aid available, because historically about 20 to 30 percent of the tuition amount goes toward aid, Meehan said.

While Meehan anticipates a tuition increase of 2.5 percent and has told the campuses to plan for that, the university will need to convene a meeting of the Board of Trustees to formally make that decision.  Enrollment is another factor that determines the university’s financial picture, Meehan said.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Looking ahead to next year, Meehan is working with chancellors on a plan to potentially keep a future tuition increase below the rise of inflation.

Meehan also defended the likely 2.5 percent tuition increase, saying it compares favorably to other state higher-learning institutions and private colleges.

“If that’s what the increase is, that would be about half what the community colleges have increased their tuition this year. It would be about half of what the state universities have increased, and it’s less than what the privates have,” Meehan said.