A costly lesson

Mark Twain once famously observed, “Everyone talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” College debt, it seems, is falling into the same category as tuition rates continue to climb with little relief coming from state or federal governments.

University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan said it’s likely that tuition and fees at the system’s five campuses will rise by 2 to 3 percent for the coming year, what he termed as a “slight” increase to offset a lower-than-requested budget from the Legislature.

“If we were able to limit tuition increases to that range, it would represent a smaller increase than nearly all of our private school peers in Massachusetts and be lower than many of the state and community colleges,” Meehan told the UMass Board of Trustees at a meeting on Tuesday.

That’s certainly slapping lipstick on a pig. The “slight” increase comes on the heels of a 5.8 percent hike this past year and a 5 percent bump the year before. If anyone is feeling the “slight” here, it’s students and their families, who will multiply the increase times four then add it onto their average $30,000 debt coming out of college compounded by interest. Slight will balloon to burdensome over time.

And while Meehan correctly points out that private schools in the region had higher increases, they are, after all, private with little taxpayer support and include some of the best colleges and universities in the country. If the increase goes through, it will make a year at UMass Amherst cost nearly $28,000.

A study last year by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association found Massachusetts support for public colleges and universities sorely lagged behind the rest of the country. The study found the state ranked in the bottom 10 for per capita spending, laying out a little more than half the US average per $1,000 income. According to the report, between fiscal 2010 and 2015, Massachusetts expenditures per full-time-equivalency student stayed nearly flat, while nationally the average rose 7.9 percent.

It is a problem that Meehan inherited, not one he created, and it goes back decades as lawmakers shifted the burden of paying for school from the state to the students. What was once a 70-30 split with taxpayers paying the bulk of the education was gradually moved to the other side of the ledger, with the state share falling to as low as 20 cents on the dollar and federal funds picking up about 10 to 20 percent.

In 2011, then-newly selected UMass President Robert Caret declared he intended to work hard to get lawmakers to fund the system to prior levels, saying public colleges and universities were created for just that purpose: to offer an affordable opportunity for a college education for those unable to go to private schools.

“I don’t think Massa­chusetts is where it needs to be,” Caret told CommonWealth shortly before taking over as president. “I don’t think 20 cents on the dollar, for the UMass system, is an appropriate level of funding from the state…I do think we need to look at that shared responsibility piece and see where Massachusetts used to be, where it would like to be, and can we get there. I’m pretty sure, other than because of the budget crisis, Massa­chusetts is not where it thinks it should be. It’s where it has to be at the moment, and we need to get it back to where it should be.”

Caret had little success in moving the needle, watching the school’s appropriation inch up and down with little significant change from the Legislature. Caret was at least able to institute a two-year freeze but that was the trigger for the hikes the last two years.

Caret, who came from Maryland after a stint out West, didn’t have the relationships with lawmakers that Meehan does but that doesn’t seem to be doing the Lowell native any good, either. The Senate has proposed a $534 million budget for UMass while the House has set the appropriation at $513 million, both below the $538 million that Meehan had requested. Regardless of what level they agree on, it will result in the “slight” increase and the annual dance will resume next year.

–JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker scales back his plan to help address the state’s bulging Medicaid budget through an assessment on employers. (Boston Globe) A Herald editorial praises the plan’s effort to rein in Medicaid spending.

A Globe editorial applauds Baker’s “welcome reversal on biotech” with his proposed $500 million five-year state plan to aid the industry.

There’s a bit of intrigue bubbling up over a possible succession battle for the Senate presidency, despite the fact that the current president, Stan Rosenberg, as well as those doing the whispering all insist he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Lowell City Council voted 5-4 to build a new, $356 million high school in the predominantly white neighborhood of Belvidere rather than renovating and expanding the existing downtown facility. The vote came after midnight and followed a 10-10 deadlock by the School Building Committee and some emotional exchanges during a six-hour debate. (Lowell Sun) For a good backgrounder, check out this story. (CommonWealth)

A Salem News editorial praises Footprint for offering $200,000 for improvements to homes near the natural gas-fired power plant in return for permission to extend construction hours until midnight. Footprint, running behind schedule and facing penalties if it fails to open on time, thinks it can shave a month off of construction time with the longer hours.

Methuen considers three applicants for a medical marijuana facility, but only two agree to a city demand that the facility not sell recreational marijuana. Mayor Stephen Zanni is adamantly opposed to recreational sales.(Eagle-Tribune) Medical marijuana facilities are worried about their regulatory oversight shifting from the Department of Public Health to a Cannabis Control Commission. (Gloucester Times) Meanwhile, the Weymouth Town Council declined a proposal by Mayor Robert Hedlund to put a ballot question before voters to decide if the town should ban retail marijuana sales. (Patriot Ledger)

Generous contract terms allow Boston police to pocket tens of thousands of dollars for hours they don’t actually work, with one detective ranking as the highest city employee last year with earnings of about $403,000. (Boston Globe)

Scot Lehigh’s annual rant about unmuffled motorcycle noise becomes a song (sung with muted inside voice) of praise for Boston police commissioner Bill Evans and his department, which has issued 40 citations this to bikers for noise violations. (Boston Globe)

The Boston City Council, which has been a fairly placid place in recent years, displays a few moments of acrimony. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Virginia police are labeling the death of a 17-year-old Muslim girl, who was abducted and beaten to death with a baseball bat after a driver swerved his car onto a sidewalk to chase a group of Muslim teens she was walking with, a road rage incident. (Washington Post)

A crackdown by federal authorities on Irish illegal immigrants in the Boston area has the community on edge as a leader of a local Irish sports league is arrested at his Brighton home. (Boston Herald)

ELECTIONS

Republican Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff in Georgia in the most expensive — and most watched — congressional race in the country, a contest seen as a referendum on President Trump. (U.S. News & World Report) Ossoff chose civility in his race against Handel and didn’t attack Trump, raising questions about the best way for Democrats to take on the Republican president. (Washington Post) The Ossoff loss and the loss of a special election for a South Carolina House seat (that actually ended up being closer than the Georgia race) made yesterday a disaster for Democrats, says James Pindell. (Boston Globe) Kimberly Atkins says there was a silver lining for Dems. (Boston Herald)

Jeff Jacoby slams the proposed millionaire’s tax as the start of a slippery slope and predicts voters will reject it. (Boston Globe)

Stephanie Martins, a 29-year-old Brazilian immigrant, is shaking up Everett politics with her run for the city council. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigned as CEO after a revolt by the board of directors following a series of scandals at the upstart ride-hailing company. (New York Times)

EDUCATION

The Brockton School Committee voted to bring back 52 of 179 teachers who had received pink slips because of a $16 million budget gap after officials discovered unspent funds as well as determining there were too many layoffs. (The Enterprise)

Some students at Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School were forced to retake final exams after officials say another student or group of students accessed test materials without permission. (The Enterprise)

TRANSPORTATION

Steve Poftak, who will take over as the MBTA’s interim general manager July 1, will receive a salary of $260,000. (CommonWealth)

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack says the mindset of the state bureaucracy needs to change fast if Massachusetts is going to reach its carbon emission reduction goals. At the same conference where Pollack spoke, Karl Iagnemma of nuTonomy explains the challenge  of perfecting autonomous cars in Boston. (CommonWealth)

The MBTA says its pension problem is worsening. (State House News)

The National Transportation Safety Board will not investigate the crash of a Steamship Authority high-speed ferry from Nantucket that hit a jetty at the entrance of Hyannis Harbor on Friday night. (Cape Cod Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A Barnstable Superior Court judge ordered Falmouth officials to shut down two wind turbines after the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals sided with neighbors who complained that the turbines were nuisances. The ruling contradicts an April jury finding that found the turbines were not a nuisance. (Cape Cod Times)

Marion selectmen agreed to pay a $33,000 fine from the Army Corps of Engineers for building an “unauthorized sea wall.” (Standard-Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The defense attorney for Michael McCarthy rips the judge for instructing jurors that they only need to find that he took part in the crime of killing Bella Bond, not that he was the sole assailant, telling her, “You’ve just screwed up my whole case!” (Boston Herald)

A Hull woman who lost her license for life in 2010 after her sixth drunken driving conviction was arrested and charged with driving under the influence for the eighth time. (Patriot Ledger)

A newly released dashcam video shows a Minnesota police officer shooting Philando Castile. It’s the same shooting that Castile’s girlfriend livestreamed on Facebook. (Associated Press)

MEDIA

Katie Kingsbury, a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial writer for the Boston Globe who took over as managing editor of digital for the paper, is leaving to take the deputy editorial page editor post at the New York Times. (Media Nation)