Finance & Economy, News

Deficit threatens higher ed

In the face of Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget cuts, Massachusetts’ public colleges and universities are scrambling to find alternate ways to raise money without placing a financial burden on students.
The budget cuts, which were announced last Wednesday as part of Patrick’s financial plan to fix the $1.4 billion budget deficit, will cut state funding by 5 percent at each public college and university. The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, 24 public colleges and the University of Massachusetts will lose $54.2 million in state funds, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
‘There has been no discussion about raising tuition,’ Executive Office of Education spokesman Jonathan Palumbo said. ‘We recognize families are facing economic challenges in their own lives and do not want to pass this fiscal burden on to them.’
Patrick worked with his Executive Office of Education and the Department of Higher Education, which regulates public higher education tuition to minimize costs to the state education system and the families that use it, to come to an agreement on the costs.
Palumbo also said the budget cut will not affect financial aid.
When the 2009 fiscal year began July 1, 2008, state funding was already distributed to schools. Bridgewater State College spokesman Bryan Baldwin said schools will have to return the necessary amount of money back to the state in the upcoming weeks.
‘This is money we have to give back to the state,’ he said. ‘I don’t know when the pull is, but it is imminent. We are already behaving as if we don’t have it.’
The Bridgewater State College administration does not plan to increase student fees mid-year or lay off academic staff members, but will instead save money through a hiring freeze of new administrative positions and going through every department to find any unused savings.
‘We’re in the human capital business, the more we are able to maintain the strength of our workforce the better,’ Baldwin said.
Salem State College, which will also receive $2 million less from state funds this year, will implement a hiring freeze similar to Boston University and curb large purchases. The administration is trying to cut back from areas of the school that least affect students, Salem State spokeswoman Karen Cady said.
‘We don’t anticipate any midyear fee increases, but at the end of academic year, we may have to restructure,’ she said.
In past tough economic times, prospective students often chose public colleges over private colleges because of price differences, Cady said.
‘What’s ironic is that when we go into a period of tight fiscal financial times, there is an increased demand on public education,’ she said. ‘Public colleges become much more desirable to high school seniors.’
Worcester State College will raise needed money by using the school’s alumni system, WSC spokeswoman Lea Ann Erikson said.
‘We’re very proud of our college foundation raising money to increase endowment funds,’ she said. ‘Schools become more entrepreneurial in their fundraising, going after private dollars because they can’t exactly depend on the state.” ‘
UMass-Amherst, which will lose $24.6 million as a result of the budget cut, will also use a hiring freeze for administrative positions, and will be more selective in hiring academic staff, UMass-Amherst Chancellor Robert C. Holub said in a press release.
‘This process will center on faculty-developed proposals to drive the hiring,’ he said in the press release.
UMass-Amherst junior Lauren Mansfield said the higher education budget cuts were a blow to Patrick’s promises from his campaign platforms.
‘I know that it’s not all Deval Patrick’s fault, as the economy is miserable everywhere, but a big part of his campaign was being this champion of public higher education and now he’s kind of pulling the rug out from under everyone,’ she said.
Fitchburg State College junior Julia Di Russo said she was more concerned about tuition costs going up.
‘I wanted to be able to avoid taking out student loans and paying them back at high interest rates,’ she said. ‘It’s a total paradox. You need the college experience to make money, but you need money to fund your college experience.’

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