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confronting cost

The federal government is poised to forgive college loans for thousands of students who attended Corinthian Colleges, the now defunct for-profit giant under investigation for misleading students about graduation and employment rates. Many of these students not only have loans, but are also unable to find jobs.

It was almost impossible to escape the call for Massachusetts to “be great” during the campaign of now-Governor Charlie Baker last fall. The campaign slogan followed Baker right to a Yankee Candle facility in Whatley this May, where the company presented him with a specially branded “Let’s Be Great Massachusetts” jar.

But for Massachusetts to truly be great, the Commonwealth has to stop underfunding its public higher education system, starting with UMass.

Students at any one of the University of Massachusetts’ five campuses may have to pay more in tuition next year. The UMass Board of Trustees is recommending an increase of up to 5 percent for in-state undergrads. It would be the first tuition and fee increase in two years.

It's a stressful time of year for students who are preparing to send out their college applications. But the next step - figuring out how much it's all going to cost - can be even more stressful. Now there's a new effort to make that complicated process a little simpler.

In late October, the Massachusetts’ Department of Higher Education released its “Degrees of Urgency” Vision Project report. It addresses challenges for state colleges and universities as demographic shifts in the next decade will result in smaller student enrollments. In New England, colleges can anticipate a 9 percent or more population loss.   

A national organization representing thousands of university professors is criticizing program cuts and faculty layoffs at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

In a letter addressed to President David Flanagan, the American Association of University Professors questions the severity of the university’s financial woes. AAUP says the actions being taken are in “blatant disregard” for tenured faculty.

Since the Great Recession, the amount of money states invest in public higher education has dropped dramatically. That, coupled with a steep drop in enrollment, has led some state university systems to cut faculty and academic programs altogether. In Maine, where Republican Paul LePage secured a second term as governor on Tuesday, those cuts are unlikely to be restored.

There's a growing skepticism in this country about whether college is really worth it. Now, one of higher education’s heavy hitters is weighing in on that national debate.  On Friday, Harvard President Drew Faust kicked off the university’s campaign to make the case for college, writing an op-ed in the USA Today and delivering a speech to high school students and teachers in Dallas.

Public discourse around the increasing cost of college and the student debt crisis has reached a feverpitch over the past five years. College and university administrators have responded to these concerns by increasing the amount of financial aid institutions provide to students: the average discount rate is now over 45 percent for private schools. This means that the average private college subsidizes students at a rate of $0.45 for every dollar of tuition it receives.

Schools give two types of scholarships: need-based scholarships that go to the lowest-income students, and merit scholarships that go to the smartest students. A report from the New America Foundation finds schools are increasingly using their money on merit scholarships. Steven Burd authored the report, and he says this trend means more money is going to those who need it the least. 

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