Legislature should look to private donations to fund UMass

Avoid tuition hikes, which burden families for decades to come

HIGHER EDUCATION FUNDING and the cost of attending the University of Massachusetts generated significant controversy in the budget just passed by the Massachusetts Legislature and signed by Gov. Charlie Baker. While UMass received funding increases in the 2020 fiscal year budget, overall per-student state funding for public higher education has decreased by more than 30 percent since 2001. The result is rising tuition and fees, and more debt that burdens students and their families for decades. 

This divestment in public higher education threatens the success of our Commonwealth and the graduates of our public colleges and universities, who are the future of our highly educated workforce. While students at our esteemed private colleges may leave for other states or countries, graduates of our public colleges stay here in Massachusetts to start businesses and families, buy homes, and put down roots. State reinvestment in our public higher education is imperative for our economic well-being. 

When they return from their summer recess, legislators have an opportunity to act on pending legislation that would accelerate the availability of funds for our state colleges and universities. 

The state’s Endowment Match Program exists to encourage private contributions to public higher education institutions through a state match. Created in the late 1990s, the endowment match raised over $125 million in private contributions in its first four yearswith the state matching these donations with $50 million in additional funding to campuses. This represents a return on investment of 250 percent. 

The Endowment Match Program is a proven success, but funding was discontinued in 2010.  

When considering where to give, philanthropists look for opportunities where their money can go further and have a greater impact. A bill now pending in the Legislature, An Act Relative to the Endowment Match Program, would renew funding for the endowment match, motivating private donors to invest in our public colleges and universities by matching their donations with public funds, at a rate of $1 in state funds for every $2 in private contributions. 

Only private contributions made in support of academic purposes — such as scholarships and endowed chairs — would be eligible for government matches. Twenty-four other states have created similar matching fund programs, which all have proven to yield substantial returns on investment. 

State Sen. Eric Lesser and Reps. James ArcieroAdrian Madaro, and Paul McMurtry have each filed similar versions of this legislation, which would make a one-time appropriation to the Endowment Match Program of $10 million for the UMass system, $5 million for state universities, and $5 million for community colleges. 

As the UMass system raises tuition and fees once again, putting thousands of students deeper into debt, the Legislature should not pass on the opportunity to attract millions of dollars in additional funding for public higher education. 

Meet the Author
Bob Hildreth is the founder of the Hildreth Institute, Inversant, and La Vida Scholars, three non-profit organizations with complementary missions to get low-income students to college.