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UMass expected to freeze tuition for the second year in a row

An arial view of the W. E. B. Du Bois Library gardens and the Old Chapel at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. UMass president Martin Meehan will recommend a freeze on in-state tuition rates for a second year in a row, a nod to the continuing financial strains that many of the system's students face in the pandemic.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

The University of Massachusetts expects to freeze in-state tuition rates for a second year in a row, a nod to the continuing financial strains that many of its students face in the pandemic, the system’s president Martin Meehan said Tuesday.

But with many students and families also having to pay mandatory fees, and room and board costs, which have continued to rise, it remains unclear whether the total cost to attend one of the state’s public universities will remain flat.

In his annual state of the university address on Tuesday, Meehan said he will recommend that the system’s board of trustees adopt a tuition freeze in the 2021-2022 academic year, “to lessen the financial burden on our students and their families, many of whom have suffered from job losses, business closures, and other impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.”

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Annual tuition costs vary across the UMass campuses, from $13,833 at UMass Dartmouth to $15,791 at the flagship UMass Amherst.

The public university system had frozen tuition for the current academic year. But with mandatory fees and increases in room and board costs, the sticker price still increased between 1 percent to 3 percent this year.

UMass officials said they haven’t decided whether to keep fees and room and board costs flat.

Still, Meehan pointed out that UMass awarded more than $970 million in state, federal, and institutional aid this academic year to help offset the cost of attendance. And the average tuition costs remain lower than other public systems in the region, including the University of Vermont ($19,062), and the University of New Hampshire ($18,938), UMass officials point out.

Enrollment at the University of Massachusetts dropped slightly this year as students opted to sit out a year rather than take classes online, or struggled financially to pay for college.

Public universities across the region are facing increasing pressure to draw students because the population of college-aged students is decreasing. At the same time, the cost of higher education has become a greater hurdle for many families.

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The University of Vermont, for example, last month said that next academic year it would freeze tuition for the third time in a row, not raise room and board costs, and lower the comprehensive fees for undergraduates.

As colleges compete on prices, they have also have been forced to invest in safety and testing programs to ensure that students and staff don’t contract or spread COVID-19.

Meehan said on Tuesday that UMass is able to freeze tuition because it expects to get aid from the federal government through the recently approved stimulus package. The American Rescue Plan signed by President Biden last week includes nearly $40 billion in aid to students and institutions.

The American Council on Education, a Washington, D.C., trade group, estimates that the four UMass undergraduate campuses will receive $132.8 million in aid from the relief package, half of which is expected to directly aid students.


Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.