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Meehan: UMass is Lifeblood of State's Economy

UMass President Marty Meehan delivers his State of the University

Lowell Sun
By Katie Lannan

BOSTON -- Holding up the University of Massachusetts system as an economic engine, UMass President Marty Meehan said the school acts based on a different motivation than private colleges and has taken on increasing responsibility in educating Bay State students.

Meehan, who has headed the five-campus system since 2015, used his first "state of the university" address Monday to call attention to rising college costs, speak out against federal policies and highlight the role UMass plays in the state, according to prepared remarks.

"The facts are undeniable: We are serving Massachusetts in a way that our private competitors no longer do," Meehan said. "Since 1986, enrollment of Massachusetts residents at the top eight private universities by ranking -- Harvard, MIT, Tufts, BC, Brandeis, BU, Northeastern and WPI -- has declined by 72 percent. UMass educates nearly three times as many Massachusetts residents as those eight schools combined. UMass Amherst alone educates more than all eight of those schools."

Of the 17,000 students who graduate UMass each year, 70 percent stay in Massachusetts, with more than 60 percent remaining long-term, Meehan said. He called UMass the "top producer of our state's greatest resource -- a highly educated workforce."

Meehan said nearly everyone in the state has been influenced by UMass, with 290,000 of the school's 500,000 alumni living here and 56,000 of its 75,000 students Massachusetts residents.
With employees added to the mix, around 360,000 Massachusetts residents have a direct connection to UMass, he said, meaning the school is represented in one out of every 10 households in the state.
UMass generates $6.2 billion a year in economic activity and is the state's second-largest employer, with more than 23,000 full- and part-time workers.

"We are Massachusetts," Meehan said. "We are the workforce. We are the lifeblood of the economy, and we are the engine that drives daily life."

Calling for a "cooperative effort" among UMass, state government and the business community to keep the best and brightest graduates local, Meehan challenged CEOs to ask their human resources department what workforce development partnerships they have with UMass.

"If you don't like their answer, call me and we'll fix that," he said.

UMass officials, faculty and students gathered the UMass Club on Beacon Street for Meehan's speech, with Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg all scheduled to attend the event.

As lawmakers prepare to debate the state budget for the 2018 fiscal year, Meehan cautioned that the university "will continue to struggle" to hold tuition increases to inflation.

Baker's $40.5 billion budget proposes a $3.5 million increase in state funding for UMass, which would bring the appropriation to $513,375,371. In his budget request to the administration, Meehan had requested a $30 million increase over this year's funding.

UMass trustees last year approved a 5.8 percent tuition hike, bringing the average in-state tuition across the system to $13,862.

"When I attended UMass Lowell as a first-generation college student from a working-class family, I was able to pay tuition and fees by working nights, weekends and summers," Meehan said. "Today, the cost of a UMass education has shifted from the state to students and their families, so paying your way by scooping ice cream or mowing lawns is nearly impossible."

He announced a joint effort by the UMass Donahue Institute and UMass Online to create an internet resource that will provide free financial literacy programming and education about paying for college to students at UMass, state universities, community colleges and Massachusetts high schools.

A Democrat who served in Congress from 1993 to 2007, Meehan also took aim at federal policies he said threaten to undermine the university's mission, making apparent references to President Donald Trump's executive orders dealing with immigration.

Two UMass Dartmouth professors, both legal permanent residents and Iranian nationals, were detained at Logan Airport in January after Trump issued his first immigration order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. A suit filed on behalf of the professors was one of several legal challenges to the policy, which was ultimately halted by a federal court order.

Trump signed a new order on Monday, which will retain the restrictions on travel from Syria, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen but no longer apply them to Iraq. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the new order, effective March 16, "will make America safer, and address long-overdue concerns about the security of our immigration system."

Meehan said learning at UMass is enhanced by the "constant flow of people and ideas" from outside the university, including from other countries.

"Our international scholars help us solve global problems," Meehan said. "That work results in intercultural understandings that make us stronger and safer. Closing our minds and our borders does nothing to make us stronger or safer. Creating fear and anxiety does nothing to achieve those goals."