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New England News

UMass' Caret Departing For Familiar Territory

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The president of the University of Massachusetts is heading south to a familiar place. Robert Caret, the 26th president of UMass, will become chancellor of the University System of Maryland in July. Before coming to UMass in 2011, Caret was president of Towson University, part of Maryland’s 12-institution system. Caret spoke with WAMC News after accepting the position at Massachusetts’ five-campus public university.

“You want very strong campuses with their own identity, their own alums who have allegiance to them and the political support that comes from that,” Caret said. “By the same token, if you’re going to have a system, you have to have a system that has an identity too. It’s not that you overpower or in any way dampen what the campuses are doing, you grow the two together.”

Shortly after taking office, Caret embarked on a 400-mile tour to hear from community leaders across the state, an effort he’s continued. A member of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education, State Senator Ben Downing says Caret’s energetic leadership will be missed.

“He didn’t just stay on the Amherst campus, he tried to engage the entire system knowing full well that even if UMass’ budget gets better the real key is to make sure that the 29 campuses of public higher education across the state are doing better and able to expand access to opportunity,” said Downing.

Under Caret, enrollment has risen to 73,000, while UMass has seen state funding increase, allowing the university to freeze tuition for in-state students in recent years with a 50-50 split between student and state contributions.

“You look at your state, the income levels of the individuals trying to come to your campuses, tuition and aid packages and you determine based on national peers and others what makes sense,” Caret said. “Obviously the more affordable you can make it the more students can come and not leave with debt, the better off we are. But there is a reality out there that there are limited dollars.”

UMass notes its $6.1 billion annual impact on the state’s economy; in March, Caret was in Springfield to open a satellite center.

“We feel Springfield, because of the critical mass here and the Springfield-Hartford corridor gives us a real chance at strong success,” said Caret.

Kevin Kinser chairs the department of educational administration and policy studies at the University at Albany. He told WAMC earlier this year it’s becoming increasingly common for higher education leaders to leave an institution after just three or four years.

“Once you become a president, there is no further promotion that you can get within higher education so people typically look to move to better quality institutions, better opportunities and better regions of the country from their perspective in order to gain that recognition of their achievements,” said Kinser.

Caret says he will help UMass in the search for a new president, which the Board of Trustees expects to begin shortly. Kinser says when colleges are looking for leaders, they cast a wide net.

“There’s a wider range of people that institutions of higher education are looking at for their leadership than just people who might have risen through the ranks in academia,” said Kinser.

Caret will take over for Maryland’s Chancellor William Kirwan, who in May announced he was retiring after 12 years and nearly five decades in the system. Kirwan embarked on a similar route as Caret is pursuing, having served as a president within USM, then leaving for Ohio State and returning as Maryland’s third chancellor.

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