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BWLI Students and Committee

State colleges more affordable

Despite cost increases, MCLA still best buy


02/26/2010- New England Newspapers

 Friday February 26, 2010 NORTH ADAMS - A new report released by the Massachusetts State College Council of Presidents shows that the nine Massachusetts state colleges are "substantially more affordable for students and their families than other public and private universities in the state and New England."

This news comes despite dramatic increases seen in the last 11 years in the cost of attending a state public four-year college. In that time, tuition and fee costs increased by an average of $4,000. The average cost of tuition and fees at one of the state's public four- year colleges, not including room and board costs, is $6,818, compared to the average cost of $32,857 for tuition and fees at private, four- year colleges in the New England.

"The report demonstrates that students and families can still have access to a great education at a reasonable cost, said Admiral Richard Gurnon, president of Mass Maritime and College Council chairman, in a news release. "The value we provide is one reason why, for the first time in our history, more than 50,000 students are studying on our campuses."

The state's four-year public colleges include Bridgewater State College, Fitchburg State College, Framingham State College, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Salem State College, Westfield State College and Worcester State College.

According to the report, the nine state colleges have continued to remain affordable, despite the increases, which are attributed to a consistent decrease in state funding, which has declined by "25 percent over the last five years."

At MCLA, state funding cuts have driven the cost of tuition and fees up $3,519 over the last 11 years. In 1999, the college charged just $3,357 for tuition and fees - that number has risen to $6,876 and is expected to increase by $500 to $600 this fall to meet a shortfall caused by state cuts.

In January, MCLA President Mary K. Grant warned faculty and staff that the state was expected to return the colleges to fiscal 2000 spending levels - putting the college's budget at $11. 7 million, significantly less than its $14.3 million allotment for fiscal 2009.

But even with the increases, the college still falls in the "middle-of-the-pack" when it comes to cost of attending one of the state's four year options, according to Denise Richardello, vice president of enrollment and external affairs.

" We've been extremely conscious of our fee increases over the years. We've tried to be very sensitive to the need to keep the college accessible to families," she said Thursday. "There are four state colleges that are more expensive then us and few within a couple of dollars and others that are less."

With room and board figured in, MCLA costs $15,200 a year for in-state students living on campus; $15,700 for New York residents and New England students covered by agreements with the New England Board of Higher Education and $24,100 for out-of-state students.

Southwestern Vermont residents qualify for in-state tuition costs.

"As of this fall, 17 percent of our undergraduate student body was from New York and 25 percent was from outside of Massachu-setts," Richardello said. "We're comparable in costs to state colleges in New York and Maine and in some states are more affordable. I know we're about $2,500 less than some of the public colleges in New Hampshire. Tour affordability and our program offerings make us attractive to out-of-state students."

Quality programs, low student-to-teacher ratios and lower student loan debts also make the state-college system more affordable for parents and students, she said.

According to the report, students who graduate from one of the nine state colleges have 25 percent less student loan debt than the national average.

"In the last few years, families have definitely been sitting down with students to discuss the cost of higher education," Richardello said. "Affordability has become a reality for many families. On average, our tuition and fees are 80 percent lower than that of an average four-year private college in New England. Families are recognizing not only the value of a state college education, but also the quality of our academic programs." Last year, the college saw a 36 percent increase in freshmen applications.

"We're still in the application process right now, but again we're seeing similar numbers," she said. "We believe that increase is in alignment with the recognition of our academic programs and our value."

Bridgewater State College, which charges $ 6,604 in tuition and fees, has more than 10,000 undergraduates, is made up of four colleges and has a 253- acre campus.