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UMass Boosts Student Financial Aid

By Paul Tuthill

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wamc/local-wamc-1003326.mp3

Amherst, MA – The University of Massachusetts is directing more of its state appropriation to financial aid this year. University officials say they are concerned about rising levels of student debt. WAMC"s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

The University of Massachusetts says it has increased the amount of student financial support that comes directly from the university by 25 million dollars this year. The university's direct spending on financial aid has more than doubled over the last five years, going from 78 million dollars in 2006 to 158 million dollars this year.
UMass Vice President for Communications, Robert Connolly said the increase in student financial aid is an attempt to keep public higher education in Massachusetts affordable even as state taxpayer support for the university has been declining.
UMass students receive an average of 71 hundred dollars in financial aid. For in-state students, the cost for attending the flagship UMass Amherst this year is just over 22 thousand dollars..that includes tuition, mandatory fees, and room and board. The total cost five years ago was just over 16 thousand 500 dollars. 55 percent of the university's education budget now comes from tuition and fees versus 37 percent ten years ago.
Connolly says UMass, through consolidations and other belt tightening, has tried to avoid transferring cuts in its state appropriations onto the backs of students.
Max Page, a UMass Amherst professor, and vice president of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, says not only has the state cut funding for university operations, but has also made cuts to a program that provides grants directly to students.
UMass said average student debt at graduation last year was almost 26 thousand dollars, up from 15 thousand dollars five years ago. Ben Taylor, a senior at UMass Amherst, who says his college debt is higher than the average, a level he characterized as catastrophic.
U Mass President Robert Caret has called on the state to increase its financial support for the university system.. His goal is to get to a fifty-fifty split of state support and what students are charged. Governor Deval Patrick in his proposed state budget for next year put in an additional 25 million dollars for UMass. But when previously negotiated pay raises for faculty and staff are included, the state appropriation would be essentially level funded.