UMass to recruit from the outside

15% enrollment increase sought

By Tracy Jan
Globe Staff / October 11, 2009

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AMHERST - Massachusetts’ financially strapped flagship university plans to aggressively recruit out-of-state students, who pay twice as much in tuition and fees as state residents, to help fund an ambitious effort to boost the college’s academic reputation and elevate its national profile.

UMass-Amherst Chancellor Robert Holub is seeking new sources of income, amid dwindling state subsidies, to increase the size and prominence of the faculty, update deteriorating postwar buildings, and invest in scientific research. To help reach that goal, he envisions increasing undergraduate enrollment by 15 percent, to 22,500 students, over the next decade by exclusively courting out-of-state students.

But Holub’s vision, coming as Bay State residents are facing stiffer competition to gain admission, is raising some concerns on a campus whose traditional mandate has been to make higher education accessible to citizens of the Commonwealth.

“We’re not abandoning our obligation to our students, but in order to provide a very good education for them, we obviously need to have real revenue sourc es. And one of them has to do with increased tuition and fees that come with a higher number of out-of-state students,’’ said Holub, who became chancellor a year ago. “It’s an important shift, one we haven’t really done in the past.’’

The number of in-state undergraduates, he said, will hold steady at approximately 16,000. The number of out-of-state students, who currently make up 20 percent of undergraduates, is expected to roughly double to 6,500 students - or nearly 30 percent of all undergraduates - by 2020.

By comparison, out-of-state students account for 35 percent of undergraduates at the University of Michigan and just 6.3 percent of undergraduates at the University of California at Berkeley, two colleges in the upper echelon of public universities nationally.

Starting next year, Holub hopes to begin enrolling an extra 300 out-of-state students a year, bringing in an estimated additional $4 million each year. Massachusetts residents pay $10,232 annually in tuition, while out-of-state students pay $21,929.

Holub said the university will assess the success of its new recruitment efforts after four years and determine how quickly the university will have to build new dorms.

To attract more out-state-students and tap critical donors, UMass-Amherst has begun mobilizing a national network of graduates, many of whom have snubbed the college’s alumni association in the past. Holub hopes alumni can help the admissions office tout the school and recruit, focusing on states bordering Massachusetts and others along the East Coast including New Jersey and the Washington, D.C., area.

The college is also doling out partial scholarships in specialty programs such as engineering and is considering other financial incentives to entice out-of-state students.

Some UMass-Amherst professors, though, expressed worries about the plan. Enrolling more out-of-state students could make it even more difficult for in-state students to take the classes they want unless the university simultaneously hires more faculty.

“We need to find funding where we can get it, but we have to do so in a way that does not compromise the quality of the education that students receive,’’ said Randall Phillis, a biology professor and president of the Massachusetts Society of Professors, UMass-Amherst’s faculty union. “Given that we are a public university, we want to assure that quality for our in-state students.’’

The recession has prompted more high-achieving Massachusetts students to take a second look at what many once considered a fallback school. This year’s freshman class boasts the highest SAT scores and grade-point averages in the college’s 142-year history. A record 29,500 students applied last year, driving the acceptance rate down to 65 percent, from about 80 percent in 2003.

While Holub and higher education officials acknowledge the campus has a long way to go before it can readily compete with the likes of California, Michigan, and North Carolina, they insist that a powerhouse public research university should play a stronger role in a state that boasts some of the nation’s most prestigious private colleges.

“There’s a level of complacency in this state, always relying on our elite private institutions such as Harvard and MIT to carry us,’’ said Richard M. Freeland, the state commissioner of higher education. “It used to be that the state could ride along based on the strength of its private institutions, but today, in an era when we need to be sending more students to college, Massachusetts isn’t going to maintain its position as the top state in the country for higher education without a strong public sector.’’

More so than most other public universities across the country, the UMass system has taken a big hit in budget cuts. State support for the Amherst campus has dropped 16 percent in the last year alone, from $218.2 million in 2009 to $187.6 million this fiscal year, said university officials, who expect the picture to worsen in coming weeks.

State Representative David Torrisi, the House chairman for the joint committee on higher education, said the recruitment of out-of-state students makes sense from a revenue perspective.

“Obviously with budget cuts in the last year and more cuts to come in the next month, they’re looking for alternate sources of revenue,’’ Torrisi said. “But myself and my colleagues do have some concerns about making sure Massachusetts students are taken care of first.’’

UMass-Amherst, a sprawling campus ringed by cow pastures, has long languished in the shadows of New England’s private research universities and liberal arts schools. But Holub says the underdog is well positioned to achieve greater prominence.

“Right now, we’re not in the echelon of the top public research universities, and that’s what we’re aiming for,’’ Holub said. “I think it’s a realistic expectation. It will get more competitive here.’’

Under the five-year tenure of its previous chancellor, John Lombardi, the school, once known as “ZooMass’’ for its raucous party scene, has tried to clean up its image. Among other steps, it enlisted campus police to help monitor dormitories for drug and alcohol violations.

Lombardi also embarked on a long-term plan to replace the university’s crumbling infrastructure, including leaky library walls and outdated science labs. This fall, Holub opened a new $114 million science building and will soon unveil a student recreational center.

Courting more out-of-state students, Holub said, is “just one piece of many pieces’’ in the decade-long plan to vault the university into the ranks of top publics.

During that time, UMass-Amherst needs to dramatically ratchet up fund-raising by an average of $60 million a year through alumni and its wider donor base.

Other revenue-generating plans include adding more summer and distance education programs, and introducing new professional degrees and master’s programs.

Those financial initiatives will help the university restore the ranks of tenured and tenure-track faculty, he said, a number that is low compared with the public research peers to which UMass aspires.

In the past two decades, the number of faculty in the tenure system has dropped 19 percent, from a high of 1,200 in 1987 to 975 in 2008 because of financial pressure, even as student enrollment has held steady. During that period, the number of temporary hires doubled to about 200.

Bolstering the faculty can help the college generate more federal research grants and more faculty awards, thereby boosting its prestige, he said.

Holub is also seeking to improve the undergraduate experience by expanding its honors program to meet increased demand.

And this fall, the university started weekly freshman seminars for students to develop relationships with star faculty, including one on Friedrich Nietzsche taught by the 60-year-old chancellor himself, a German scholar who was the first in his family to attend college. Such seminars have existed at UC-Berkeley since the early 1990s, where Holub spent nearly three decades.

On the Amherst campus, one student leader said he understands the need to look elsewhere for revenue but cautions the university against moving away from its mission.

“It’s important to remember what the school is historically and what it represents,’’ said Sam Dreyfus, a junior from Brookline who serves in student government. “It’s going to be difficult to find the right balance between remaining accessible for Massachusetts residents and bringing out-of-state students for the fees. I know a lot of out-of-state students feel like they’re being milked.’’

Tracy Jan can be reached at