UMass votes to hike costs by up to 5 percent for in-state undergrads, 1st increase in 3 years

The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to raise the cost of attending the school system by up to 5 percent for in-state undergraduates, the first increase in three years.

Students would pay an additional $552 to $580 in combined tuition and a mandatory fee, depending on which of the system's five campuses they attend for the 2015-16 academic year.

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When all student charges are taken into account, the increase will range from 6 percent to nearly 8 percent, according to the university. That translates into an additional $980 for UMass-Lowell.

University officials said they had no choice, given the level of funding the system is expected to receive for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

"We are always mindful of the impact that raising fees will have on our students and their families and we approach such decisions with the utmost caution and reluctance," Board of Trustees Chairman Victor Woolridge said in a written statement.

UMass officials had requested $578 million from the state, saying it would let them freeze tuition and help maintain a 50-50 funding formula in which the state and students split educational costs equally.

The House and Senate have approved increases that fall short of that goal as the state struggles to close a $1.8 billion budget gap between revenues and anticipated spending. The House budget would provide nearly $519 million compared with about $538 million in the Senate version.

A final number won't be known until a six-member House and Senate budget conference committee releases the final compromise version of the new state budget, which must be approved by both chambers and signed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

UMass was able to freeze tuition and mandatory fees for in-state undergraduate students during the past two years after the state increased funding for the system by $100 million.

UMass President Robert Caret said he hopes to limit any cost increases depending on the final budget number.

"We are monitoring the state budget process and would be eager to lower the increase if state funding permits us to do so," Caret said.

Even with the increase, next year's cost of attendance for in-state UMass undergraduate students still is less than half of the average cost of attending private institutions in Massachusetts, according to the board of trustees.

Caret said UMass saved $44 million between the 2010 and 2014 fiscal years, most of that from savings in the purchasing, energy and sustainability and information technology areas.

He said those cost savings occurred despite a nearly 30 percent jump in enrollment during the past decade, increasing the need for more faculty, staff and facilities.

Caret steps down on June 30 to become chancellor of the University System of Maryland.