State universities warn of potential fee hikes, program cuts

Photo Courtesy: MGNonline

BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – Public state universities face a nearly $9 million collective bargaining obligation that could drive fees up or force reductions in academic programs if the Legislature does not cover it.

An organization that represents nine state university presidents sent a letter Wednesday to legislative leaders asking them to boost funding for the university system in the next fiscal year so the schools can meet the contractual salary increases for faculty and staff.

The universities, which serve about 52,000 students, include Bridgewater State University, Fitchburg State University, Framingham State University, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Salem State University, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Westfield State University, and Worcester State University.

“We had hoped to be able to freeze or substantially mitigate student fees again this year. Instead, we confront the prospect of reduced funding which would further shift more of the costs of education onto our students and families,” wrote Vincent Pedone, a former state representative who is now the executive officer of the State University Council of Presidents.

Under Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget recommendation for fiscal year 2016, the state universities would see a 2.4 percent increase, according to the council. But the governor’s budget does not include any funding for the state universities’ collective bargaining agreements, estimated at $8.8 million in fiscal 2016, according to the council.

“It is not covered. It is not something we can defer. It has to be paid by either the students or the state,” Pedone told the News Service.

Speaker Robert DeLeo, who spoke to a group of university students who were at the State House to talk to lawmakers about funding for state schools, said he is not sure yet how much the House version of the budget will contain for higher education.

DeLeo told the News Service he and House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey were still discussing the budget, which is scheduled to be released in a few weeks.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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