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State college budgets to rise, but so will fees

Proposed budget offers little relief

UMass Boston.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/Boston Globe

The cost of attending the state’s public universities and colleges is slated to jump this fall, with several schools planning to raise student fees by more than 6 percent.

Bridgewater State, Fitchburg State, and Salem State universities have all proposed to raise fees by at least that much, and most community college students will also see their costs climb, according to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education.

The Legislature’s latest $38.1 billion budget plan, which was approved Wednesday, calls for a 2.4 percent increase in funding for the nine state universities and 15 community colleges in the system, officials said.

The University of Massachusetts system, with five campuses, would receive a similar increase under the plan, which emerged Tuesday after negotiations between House and Senate representatives.

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The $12.8 million increase for UMass, while far less than system officials had lobbied for, was greeted warmly by students who had pushed for more generous state funding in hopes of offsetting at least some portion of looming fee increases.

Charlotte Kelly, a senior and member of the UMass Amherst Student Administration Accountability Coalition, described the funding increase as a victory for students.

“They heard our calls,” she said of state lawmakers.

UMass requested $578 million in state funding, the amount that university leaders said was necessary to subsidize 50 percent of educational costs and freeze fee increases for a third consecutive year.

UMass was able to hold the line on fees, reducing the average net cost of attending, because of a $100 million influx of state funding over two years.

However, with the state facing a projected $1.8 billion budget shortfall for this fiscal year, that type of increase was not seen as feasible, and lawmakers settled on a spending plan that allocates about $532 million to the five-campus system, lawmakers said.

Students at UMass Amherst said that while the proposed increase would be “sorely inadequate,” it would help offset at least some of the fee increases for students.

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Last month, university trustees voted to raise fees by as much as 5 percent.

The university system was also looking for about $11 million to pay for collective bargaining agreements, which the budget did not include.

Officials were reviewing the latest budget plan Wednesday, and did not immediately provide new estimates on how much fees would rise.

A UMass spokesman said the university will not make final decisions about fees until a budget is approved, and administrators remain hopeful that it will receive additional funding for union contracts.

“UMass appreciates the funding increase that the Legislature is providing and recognizes that the state is dealing with a difficult fiscal circumstance,” said spokesman Robert Connolly. “As this fiscal process winds to its conclusion, UMass must balance its focus on affordability with the need to protect the university’s long-term fiscal stability.”

University officials say funding has lagged behind support of other flagship campuses on a per-student basis, and note the cost of attending UMass has progressively shifted to students and families.

Enrollment has increased almost 30 percent in the past decade, causing costs to rise substantially.

The full increase would raise tuition and mandatory fees for the fall semester by about $900 at UMass Amherst, the system’s flagship campus, and nearly $1,000 at UMass Lowell, an increase of almost 8 percent.

The rates apply to in-state undergraduates.

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Kelly said she remained hopeful that if the fiscal outlook improved, the Legislature could provide supplemental funding to reduce student fees. That was only possible, she said, if “system officials, trustees, and leaders on the five campuses are willing to work together to fight for real change on the state level.”

“We all need to do a better job at working on issues that affect students,” the UMass Amherst senior said.

Last month, the Baker administration called on UMass to avoid large fee increases given its increased budget.

Bridgewater State University has approved an increase of $550 for the next academic year, but said tuition and fees remain under $9,000.

“We are very sensitive to the impact of any cost increase on our students and would have preferred not to raise fees,” said Paul Jean, a university spokesman. “However, this year the state did not fully fund our collective bargaining obligations, which necessitated the increase.”

While nearly all public colleges raised their fees, Bunker Hill and Cape Cod community colleges are freezing student expenses for the fall. Bunker Hill is always seeking to keep costs down “because remaining affordable is so important to the students we serve,” said John Pitcher, its vice president of administration and finance.

Michael Gross, a spokesman at Cape Cod Community College, said its leaders intend to hold fees stable for the full year.

They “are very concerned that students are being priced out of higher education, and are trying to do everything they can to keep the impact on students as minimal as possible,” he said.

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Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.