UMass in ‘Survival Mode' as It Plans for Fall and Braces for Budget Cuts

UMass is planning for scenarios ranging from 10 to 20% cuts in state budget funding for higher education

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The University of Massachusetts is beginning to finalize its initial plans for the fall, balancing safety and access to education while managing uncertain budgets.

During an hourslong virtual meeting of the Board of Board of Higher Education, University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan said the system is preparing for huge funding shortfalls and saving money through collaboration while tailoring plans to each of its five campus’ specific needs.

“I think in these times, all of the campuses recognize, we’re in survival mode,” Meehan said. “We have to find the most efficient way to deliver high-quality, affordable education.”

Funding has become a major focus to keep public higher education solvent, with UMass planning for scenarios ranging from 10 to 20% cuts in state budget funding for higher education the next two years.

The state will release guidance to school districts for a potential fall reopening, to allow outdoor graduations in July and MCAS tests could be postponed until next winter.

“As much as we want to work as hard as we can to lobby for more state funding,” said Meehan, “what we’re asking the chancellors to do is to find a way to balance this budget no matter what happens.”

The campuses are also tightening up their enrollment forecasts. President Meehan said UMass Boston's newly released plan calls for "nearly all remote learning" in large part because about 55% of the student population uses public transportation to get to campus.

“We’re not just going to wait until September to find out who shows up, we more or less on a weekly basis are examining all of those indicators along the way,” UMass Boston Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman said.

A UMass medical student who was once fighting for her life with COVID-19 is now on the front lines against the pandemic.

During the meeting, the board began brainstorming ways to cut costs through collaborative partnerships between UMass, the Massachusetts State Universities system and community colleges.

“We’re really doing a collective reimagination of what public higher education is,” Higher Ed Board member Paul Toner said.

The next two months will be crucial, as each public institution adjusts its plans for fall based on health metrics, enrollment projections and budget indications.

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