BOSTON — Massachusetts has cut its higher education funding by an inflation-adjusted 14 percent since 2001, as both tuition and fees and student debt have increased, a new report found.
The declining support for the University of Massachusetts system, four-year state universities and two-year community colleges comes amidst “growing importance” of public higher education to the state’s long-term health, according to the report, released Tuesday by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
“We’ve seen very clearly how central having an educated workforce is to having a strong, high-wage economy in the modern world,” MassBudget president Noah Berger said. “That correlation is extremely strong and getting stronger.”
As total state funding has declined, student enrollment has gone up, according to the report, leading to a 31 percent drop in per-student spending since 2001, as adjusted for inflation.
This year’s $39.25 billion state budget — which pays for everything from health care to transportation to local aid, public pensions and more — allocated more than $509 million for the UMass system, $248 million for the nine state universities and colleges, and $271 million for 15 community colleges.
According to the report, state funding per student is down $3,000 since the 2001 fiscal year, while per-student tuition and fees are up by $4,000.
Meanwhile, both the portion of graduates of Massachusetts public four — year colleges with student loans and their average amount of debt has increased, the report said. From the 2001 fiscal year to the 2014 fiscal year, the share of graduates with loans increased from 54 percent to 75 percent, and the average debt amount climbed from $18,782 to $29,038.
“One way to look at it is the cuts to funding for higher education have translated into higher student costs because costs are being shifted onto students, and that plays a major role both in increasing costs for students and increasing debt for students,” Berger said.
The next snapshot of support levels for public higher education will come in January when Gov. Charlie Baker releases his fiscal 2018 budget proposal.
MassBudget senior fellow Luc Schuster wrote in the report that while tuition has “actually remained relatively level,” mandatory fees have increased “dramatically.” He pointed to the $910 in tuition and $8,336 in fees for a full-time resident student at Salem State University in fiscal 2016.
The UMass Board of Trustees voted this summer to raise student charges by 5.8 percent, a move that cost the average in-state undergraduate $756 more before financial aid and marked the second consecutive year of increases after two years of a tuition freeze. UMass hiked tuition by 5 percent in 2015.
UMass President Marty Meehan and the trustees postponed this year’s tuition vote until after the state budget was finalized, with Meehan saying at the time the goal was “to arrive at the best possible appropriation so that we can mitigate what we will need to implement for tuition.”
The report took various approaches to comparing Massachusetts’ public higher education spending to other states, finding the Bay State ranks 43rd in higher education support per $1,000 of personal income, 31st in higher education spending per capita, and 21st in per-student spending adjusted for cost of living. Without adjusting for cost of living, Massachusetts has the 12th highest per-student spending.
State revenue growth has been sluggish so far this fiscal year, with tax collections up 2.2 percent, and experts last week offered a range of growth estimates of 2.65 percent to 5.2 percent for the 2018 fiscal year.
Berger said investing across all levels of education is important for the state’s fiscal health. “When you look long-term and what it would take to build a more stronger, vibrant economy, which ultimately would be good for the state fiscally, investing in education is a big part of that,” he said.