More Students, Less Money For Higher Education

Adam Sennott
Spare Change News

Enrollment at publicly funded colleges is up, driven by a demand for an affordable college education and, for many students, a focus on workforce development with the real-life connec- tions to regional employers that are found at community colleges.

At the same time, state support for those state and community colleges is down sharply. So is student financial aid.

The results? Higher mandatory stu- dent fees. Steep cutbacks on the state’s campuses. Increased class sizes. No money for faculty and staff pay raises, early retirement incentives for veteran faculty and staff and an increased reli- ance on adjunct faculty. Cuts to every- thing from library budgets to sports programs.

Overall, the result is an increased pressure on publicly funded colleges to do more with less, one of the driving forces in the state’s economic growth.

Take, for example, Bunker Hill Community College.

BHCC is receiving $17.9 million in state support for the current fiscal year. That’s down from the $22.1 million it received in fiscal year 2009.

Meanwhile, enrollment over that same time period has shot up at BHCC, from 11,009 in 2009 to approximately 13,000 this school year.

Similarly, state support for all state and community colleges in Massachusetts is down. State funding amounts to $948 million in the current academic year, down from $1.13 bil- lion in FY 2009. Meanwhile, a recent state Department of Higher Education report shows a 23 percent increase in undergraduate enrollment at the state’s community colleges, state universities and University of Massachusetts cam- puses between fall 2001 and fall 2011. The report also shows that selected colleges and universities have wit- nessed dramatic fall-to-fall enrollment increases in the past year. Framingham State University’s enrollment increased 15 percent, while Worcester State University’s enrollment grew by 9 per- cent. These increases occurred despite a smaller pool of high school graduates across the state due to various demo- graphic changes.

Across the public higher educa- tion system, the report says, the rate of undergraduate enrollment growth – 18 percent – was more than double the rate of enrollment growth at pri- vate colleges and universities in the Commonwealth (7 percent) between fall 2006 and fall 2010. Massachusetts’ 18 percent enrollment growth from fall 2006 to fall 2010 also outpaced that of peer institutions in other New England states, where enrollment grew by an overall 12 percent during the same period.

Massachusetts is comprised of 15 community colleges, nine state univer- sities, and the five-campus University of Massachusetts system. Although demand for public higher education is at an all-time high, state funding for public higher education has been cut by $164,227,471, or 16.4 percent of the entire budget for public higher educa- tion, since the FY 2009 budget, accord- ing to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

With unemployment in Massachusetts at nearly 8 percent, the demand for public higher educa- tion has exploded. According to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s website, more than 260,000 students enroll into one of the states 29 campuses annually.

“I think it’s already too expensive as it is, but that’s really the educa- tional system around here,” said Colin Boisvert, a double major in sociology and French at UMass-Boston. “It’s def- initely not easy [paying for college]. I got help from my parents, which is probably the only reason I can afford it right now.”

Tyler Murphy, an English major at UMass-Boston, said: “It’s definitely been a struggle having to work full- time just to get in here and get my edu- cation. I get loans, so that covers about half, and then the other half, I will have to work like 50 to 60 hours during the summer just to pay for rent and then pay somewhere around $2,400 once the semester starts.”

While it’s a struggle for students to pay for classes, they also have to afford books. “That was why spending so much time working was tough; knowing that on top of the tuition I’d have to cover like $300 worth of books,” Murphy said. “I know that if my computer crashes at any point I don’t have a chance, so I’ve got my fingers crossed there.”

While student enrollment isn’t a problem, state and federal funding is. However, according to Katy Abel, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, while students are paying more, Massachusetts is doing better than most states and even leads the nation in the number of people with associate degrees.

“Across the United States, obvious- ly we are in a situation where we have cutbacks that are occurring on the fed- eral level and on a state level because we’re in an economic crisis,” said Abel. “So, in some states public higher edu- cation budgets have experienced dou- ble-digit cutbacks. In Massachusetts, we are lucky, luckier than most, in that we have a governor who is very com- mitted to education, period, and edu- cation through college.”

However, over the past three years, the budgets for higher education have been cut drastically. Since FY 2009, the budget for the five-campus UMass sys- tem has been cut $86.2 million, while community colleges have been cut another $42.6 million, and other state universities have lost $35.4 million from their budgets, MassBudget fig- ures show.

Unlike most private colleges and universities, where the majority of charges come from tuition, at state uni- versities and community colleges most of a student’s cost is incurred in fees.

“Tuition at Massachusetts colleges and universities has not risen in over a decade,” said Abel. “Fees, on the other hand, which are set by local boards at community colleges and state uni- versities and the UMass board, have risen because these institutions don’t have any choice. The overall picture for Massachusetts is that we’re doing better than a lot of other states, but that doesn’t mean that students aren’t pay- ing more. They are.”

Another area that has seen decreased funding is student financial aid. According to Abel, in the 1980s, the MASSGrant program paid for a large portion of the cost for a student to attend college. Today it covers sig- nificantly less.

“The MASSGrant program in the 1980s covered 80 percent of a student’s cost, and that has fallen dramatically, to the point where now the MASSGrant program covers a small fraction of total
expenses,” said Abel. “So that means that, you know, 14 percent of the aver- age college cost, down from 80 percent in 1988.”

In addition to the MASSGrant pro- gram, the FY 2012 budget provides $87.6 million for the state scholarship program, a cut of $12.7 million when compared to the FY 2009 appropria- tion of $96.9 million, or $100.3 million in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to MassBudget.

Although state funding and finan- cial aid is down, Abel notes that Gov. Deval Patrick has been investing and improving infrastructure at existing college campuses. Abel also pointed out that the state only pays a portion of the cost to construct these new build- ings, while individual colleges work to raise the remaining balance of the cost.

“There was a bond authorization that was approved by the adminis- tration and funding from that bond authorization has resulted in a build- ing boom across the campuses,” said Abel. “At UMass-Boston, for example, they have broken ground on a new sci- ence complex. UMass-Boston hadn’t had a single new building in decades.”

One school that recently added a new building is Bunker Hill Community College, which unveiled its new state-of-the-art Health and Wellness Center last year. Although BHCC has set enrollment records in each of the last 12 semesters, they have also experienced cuts in their state funding.

In FY 2012 BHCC received $17,496,631 in state appropriations, down from the $20,897,000 it received in FY 2009, according to Mass.gov, and less than 30 percent of their $59,307,382 projected revenue for FY 2012.

However, because BHCC has seen such a dramatic explosion in its enroll- ment, the college has been able off- set some of the cuts in state funding through tuition and fees. According to Jesse M. Thompson, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Bunker Hill Community College, every percentage point enroll- ment increases will amount to nearly $330,000. At the time of our interview BHCC’s enrollment was up 6 percent from the same time last year.

“Basically what that allows us to do is to continue to provide support ser- vices to students, continue to hire full- time faculty and do things like that,” said Thompson. “With the increased enrollment, that’s helped offset some of the decline in the state appropria- tions. We could do so much more, but it just means it’s a limit as to how much we can continue to grow.”

According to the Massachusetts Community Colleges website, com- munity colleges are a key to work- force development in Massachusetts. BHCC even offers programs with, among other companies, NSTAR and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. However, these programs receive little state funding and it’s up to the colleges to collaborate with outside industry.

“[The state] gives us workforce incentive dollars, that might be like $50,000 dollars a year to a $100,000 dollars a year, but that’s it,” said Thompson. “The rest of it comes from companies that we work with.”

Although many schools might find ways to offset their losses in state appropriations this year, filling holes in their budget might be something they have to get used to, if they haven’t already.

“I think the honest answer is no one really knows,” said Abel. “No one is expecting a helicopter to rain dollars on the public colleges and universities of Massachusetts. We know that all the indications are that over the next few years, things are going to be difficult. So no one has a crystal ball.”

ADAM SENNOTT is former editor of Spare Change News.

PHOTO / REUTERS FILE PHOTOS

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