Between the Lines: What’s Another $1,000 on Top of Tuition?

The cost of a University of Massachusetts Amherst education has increased on average by more than $1,000 each year for the past three years.

This, in a world where most working people can expect a 2 -percent cost-of-living raise — if that. In the summer of 2015, the increase brought the cost of UMass Amherst up above $25,000 for the first time — from $24,215 the previous academic year. With the past week’s 3-percent increase, the cost is now $27,669, including room and meals, but excluding the cost of textbooks, another area that is constantly increasing.

The total increase has been about $3,450 in the past three years, about $1,150 per year.

That is far, far too much, and Massachusetts is already one of the top 10 most expensive states to be an in-state student at a public university, according to data from the College Board.

The University of Maryland charged less than $22,000 for tuition, room, and meals during the past academic year. New York residents will pay $21,120 to attend one of the campuses of the State University of New York this coming year. Tennessee, which just approved free community college tuition for all adult residents of the state, will charge in-state students $23,856 for the coming academic year including tuition, meals, and one of the more expensive double rooms at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

All of those universities charge thousands less to their in-state students than does Massachusetts.

While some of the extra charges have to do with an upswing in administrators with inflated salaries and constant costs for both academic and non-academic construction to attract students, the problem is largely one of state funding.

Before handing the reigns of the UMass over to Martin Meehan, outgoing president Robert Caret told trustees that Maryland and North Carolina, both places he had previously worked, had state legislatures that funded their university systems at a 40 to 60 percent higher rate than Massachusetts.

As rising tuition costs put higher education out of reach for more and more Massachusetts residents, we do harm to our state. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. State Democrats, who have supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, have not been able to deliver a state budget that meets the needs of UMass.

Neither has Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. However, Baker has worked on a program for Boston students for the coming year offering four years of college education tuition-free to those who qualify for the need-based aid.

When asked about the program, State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said such a program would be unlikely to come about in Massachusetts as a whole, and would be in competition with state dollars to fund contractual raises for university staff.

It is unfortunate that university staff are being pitted against their students for funding by the state. The Legislature and Governor should be providing enough funding to pay for both, and the university should uphold its end of the bargain by doing its best to keep costs down.

Meanwhile, private colleges are not doing much to fill in the gap. Tuition at many private colleges, including Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith, top $60,000 per year.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@valleyadvocate.com.

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