Mass. Higher Education System Faces Tough Times

Coping With the Budget Crunch

When it comes to funding for higher education, the Bay State is clearly exceptional.

Every other state in the nation has increased its commitment to higher education over the past two years--allocating an average of 14 percent more money for the budgets of publicly-funded colleges and universities.

Massachusetts, on the other hand, actually decreased funding by 9 percent during the same period, slashing more than $100 million in the higher education budget since 1988.

And in the wake of a state deficit estimated at $2.3 billion over the next two years, a higher education system that is already sucking in its gut is likely to have its belt tightened yet another notch.

"Next year will be very difficult for public higher education under any scenario," says Peter M. Mitchell, vice-chancellor of educational research for the Massachusetts Board of Regents.


The current budget crunch has already forced state colleges and universities to lay off workers, freeze hiring of new staff, cut support services and turn away many qualified students.

"Things are kind of grim," says Daniel J. Chesnicka, speaker of the Undergraduate Student Senate at U. Mass-Amherst. "Its really difficult to graduate in four years because the required courses are becoming hard to take."

At the University of Lowell, 312 class sections were eliminated between spring and fall of 1989, says Lowell student government executive board member Brenda M. Sadowski. Sadowski cites the case of an accounting course which offered 15 sections in the spring, but only two when students returned in the fall.

Louis Dars, associate vice-chancellor of research for the Board of Regents estimates that the state has had to lay off more than 1000 higher education employees since June 1988.

"What we face now is the firing of tenured faculty and the elimination of academic units," says Richard Rooney, student trustee at U. Mass-Boston. "We have massive classrooms where students sit on the floors to get an education."

Students say support services like campus maintenance and libraries have suffered as well. "The university is filthy, the physical plant is decaying," says Rooney.

While the quality of higher education has decreased as a result of the budget cuts, the price for students and parents has steadily risen.

In the last two years, tuition in state schools has increased between 7 and 8 percent on average, according to Terry C. Zoulas, Board of Regents public affairs director.

To make matters worse, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis made further emergency cuts at mid-year, asking education officials to give back $25 million of the $715 million in their original budget for the 1990 fiscal year.

School administrators say the cuts have seriously interfered with their ability to plan from year to year, forcing them to pass the additional costs along to students.

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