Over the past two years, Massachusetts has been a national leader in providing support for its public research university — boosting funding for the five-campus UMass system by an eye-catching $100 million.
And the state’s financial investment translated into something truly remarkable: The average net cost of attending UMass declined for the first time in recent memory, decreasing by more than $200 per student for the academic year just completed. Our leaders on Beacon Hill should take a bow – and I know that students and their families breathed sighs of relief.
Looking ahead, the state budget for 2015-2016 has not been finalized, so we don’t know how much money UMass will receive, but it will be between the House’s $519 million and the Senate’s $537 million. Either would represent an increase over the current $511 million, but neither would appear to be enough to spare UMass its first fee increase in three years, so an increase of some magnitude seems inevitable.
Although Massachusetts has been at the head of the funding class over the past two years, we had a lot of catching up to do, since funding for UMass had been flat for more than a decade leading up to this period.
My ardent hope is that the Commonwealth, dealing with budget problems of its own, regards this as a one-year retreat from a long-term major fiscal commitment to UMass and will not slip back into an era of relative inattention. Over the years, UMass has demonstrated that it is very good at doing more with less, but “more with less” is not a good long-term strategy for a state that builds its economy on a foundation of brainpower.
I leave my post as president of UMass at the end of this month to become chancellor of the University System of Maryland. I will oversee a public university system where the flagship campus at College Park this past year received a state subsidy of $15,860 per student. Looking further south, the subsidy at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill was $16,595 per student.
But here in Massachusetts, even after our $100 million increase, state funding per student for our flagship campus in Amherst during the past year was $9,025 – dramatically less than the level we see in North Carolina and Maryland, two states that compete head to head with Massachusetts in the global innovation economy. This is not a good position for Massachusetts, which will be going into battle against states that are spending dramatically more to arm their flagships.
Having seen the University of Massachusetts take major steps forward over the past four years, I fervently hope that UMass will receive the support it deserves and needs in the years ahead — as an investment in UMass truly is an investment in the Commonwealth and its future.Robert L. Caret is president of the UMass system.