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Senate President Rosenberg urges University of Massachusetts trustees to hold line on fees

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BOSTON — Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg is asking the University of Massachusetts to reconsider planned fee hikes.

In a letter to UMass President Marty Meehan, Rosenberg said the university's board of trustees should revisit the increases in light of additional money provided to the five-campus system in the state budget.

The board voted in June 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 an increased mandatory fee, depending on which of the system's five campuses they attend. At the time, university officials said they had no choice, given the level of funding the system expected to receive for the 2016 fiscal year that began July 1.

Rosenberg said the UMass system received $531.8 million for the 2016 fiscal year, a $20.6 million — or 4 percent — increase over the previous year.

Rosenberg said the hikes could end up translating into a total increase in tuition and all mandatory fees of about $900 for in-state undergraduate students at UMass-Amherst. He said he's talked to UMass students working two or three part-time jobs to scrape together enough money needed to stay in school.

"This is about income inequality. Working families are remortgaging their homes and spending their retirement savings to send their kids to school," Rosenberg said in a statement. "We need to ensure we're making it easier for them, not harder."

An aide to Gov. Charlie Baker said the governor agrees with Rosenberg that every effort should be made to ensure the affordability of public colleges. Baker believes that that since the tuition and fees were set before the budget was completed, UMass leadership should revisit their increases since their funding was significantly increased in the budget.

University spokesman Robert Connolly said the system sought $578 million for the current fiscal year. The UMass board had said that the extra funding would have prevented increases in tuition and fees.

Connolly said the university could still meet that goal if more money is included in an upcoming supplemental budget.

"Senate President Rosenberg suggests paring back this year's fee increase but UMass could eliminate it entirely if he could win full funding for our budget and collective-bargaining requirements," Connolly said in a statement.

Connolly said UMass was able to freeze tuition and mandatory fees for in-state undergraduate students over the past two academic years, due to a $100 million increase in state funding.

He said UMass could still rebate the fee increase put in place if the system receives more funding.

"A third freeze would be our preferred course," Connolly said.

In a letter to Meehan dated Aug. 13, Rosenberg said he will continue to "make it a priority to address the university's continuing funding needs."

Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, said there are 22,000 undergraduate students at UMass-Amherst and that three out of every four recent UMass graduates live and work in Massachusetts.

Even with the fee increase, UMass officials say the cost of attending UMass for undergraduate students still is less than half of the average cost of attending private institutions in Massachusetts.

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