Public higher ed poised to seek 8.8 percent budget hike

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BOSTON, DEC. 2, 2014…..The state’s public universities and community colleges are poised to ask for an additional $48.8 million in next year’s state budget, a nearly 9 percent increase that officials describe as necessary to keep public higher education affordable and meet the degree needs of the state’s future workforce.

As Governor-elect Charlie Baker’s team begins to plan for the development of a fiscal 2016 state budget, state agencies are also preparing budget requests for the new administration.

A committee of the Board of Higher Education on Tuesday debated its draft budget, which will be voted upon by the full board next week. The committee on Tuesday endorsed the budget request.

The draft budget recommends a $25.2 million increase for community colleges, including $13.2 million for collective bargaining costs, and $23.6 million for the state universities, including $8 million for contracts.

“We’ll be trying to get the attention of the Baker administration,” Higher Education Commission Richard Freeland said.

The budget, according to the board, reflects the recommendations of the Higher Education Finance Commission, which calls for an increased investment of $95 million a year, or $475 million over the next five years, for operations at the state’s universities, community colleges and the University of Massachusetts system.

The finance commission also recommended an additional $62 million in fiscal 2016 and $630 million by 2020 for student financial aid through the MASSGrant program, which would increase from 8 percent to 50 percent the cost of college covered by MASSGrant.

A recent report produced by the Department of Higher Education projected the state would fall short of meeting the economy’s need for new associate’s and bachelor’s degrees by 55,000 to 65,000 by 2025.

Additional funding, according to the draft budget, is necessary to boost enrollment and college completion rates by attracting and retaining students who can’t currently afford to go to college.

State spending under the current $36.5 billion state budget is projected to grow 5.6 percent this year, although lawmakers and Gov. Deval Patrick are in the midst of a midyear budget-cutting exercise.

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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