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With 2.5 percent tuition hike, it will cost close to $30,000 to attend UMass Amherst

Protesters briefly chanted as Governor Charlie Baker spoke during the UMass commencement ceremony May 10 in Amherst.
Protesters briefly chanted as Governor Charlie Baker spoke during the UMass commencement ceremony May 10 in Amherst. Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff/Globe Staff

Students attending the University of Massachusetts system will be hit with a 2.5 percent tuition increase for the upcoming school year, tipping the full cost of earning a degree on some of the state’s public campuses close to $30,000 annually.

The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees last week approved the tuition increase, the fifth in as many years. The increase will go into effect for the academic year that begins this fall and will vary depending on which of the four campuses a student attends, but amounts to more than $300 in additional tuition costs.

At the system’s flagship campus in Amherst, tuition will increase to $15,791, from $15,406 annually, a $385 price hike. But with fees, and the cost of room and board, UMass Amherst officials estimate that the total annual cost for an in-state student to attend the university will be $29,393. At UMass Boston, which is primarily a commuter campus, tuition and fees will amount to $14,600 next year, but students who choose to live in the new campus dormitory and participate in a meal plan can expect costs to top $29,900.

UMass president Martin Meehan said the system tried to keep the tuition increases modest and below other public universities in New England. Many students also receive financial aid, which reduces the final bill.

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“We remain affordable,” Meehan said. “Given the budget, given the situation, we are pleased to be able to move on.”

Last Friday’s vote on the tuition increase comes after months of contentious debate with the Legislature over public higher education funding and growing frustration, among lawmakers, students, and their families about the rising costs of attending a state university.

The vote to increase tuition has come particularly late this year, with bills going out to families just a few weeks before students arrive on campuses. On July 21, the Massachusetts Legislature became the last in the country to approve a final spending bill among states with a fiscal year that begins July 1.

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The $43.3 billion state budget included $558 million in funds for UMass, a $29 million increase over last year, with most of the additional money going toward collective bargaining contracts with faculty and staff. But the increase fell $10 million short of what Meehan had requested to institute a tuition freeze this upcoming school year. Meehan had warned for months that without his full funding request, a tuition increase was likely.

UMass raised tuition by 2.5 percent last year and 3 percent the previous year.

Even with the tuition increase, some campuses in the UMass system are cutting costs. UMass Boston is facing a $14 million budget deficit and has offered employees voluntary buyouts as it deals with lower than expected enrollment and increased depreciation costs.

Like many of the private colleges in New England, the state’s public universities are struggling to enroll students, particularly international students and those from out-of-state who pay more to attend.

UMass Lowell, for example, only increased out-of-state tuition by 2 percent to ensure that it remains an attractive option to price-sensitive families beyond the Massachusetts border.

Overall, UMass expects to enroll 65,816 full-time students this upcoming academic year, a 0.7 percent increase over last year and the lowest level of growth in four years.

Fewer students ultimately means less revenue for the universities, and more pressure to cut costs or increase the price.

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James Cordero, 20, a rising junior at UMass Amherst, said the rising cost of attending a public university is shutting out many Massachusetts families. Going to UMass Amherst for example, is increasingly only accessible for families who have significant savings, those who can afford to take out large loans, and students who can work multiple jobs to pay for the degree.

Cordero works in the summer helping low-income and first-generation high school students in the Springfield area prepare for and apply to college. Many of the students have discounted UMass from their choices, he said. “They don’t want to even apply to UMass Amherst because they see the college costs go up,” Cordero said. “They don’t want to be burdens to their family.” Cordero said the state needs to invest more in public higher education to help bring costs down.

The Senate had initially also proposed a freeze to tuition and fees for in-state students, but the measure failed during budget talks. A proposed amendment to the state budget which would have cut the pay and benefits of UMass administrators also was defeated earlier this year.


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