July 6, 2009 | last updated March 24, 2012 2:36 pm

Hold The Line | Local colleges struggle to keep costs down

With endowments down and greater pressure on families, colleges in Central Massachusetts are in a tight spot when it comes to finances.

Most colleges and universities in the area are trying to hold costs down, but a review by the Worcester Business Journal shows that overall, students and their parents can expect to pay more in the fall.

State Policy

Earlier this year, the state acknowledged the economy's condition when the Department of Higher Education voted in February to keep tuition at the state colleges and community colleges the same as last year. Commissioner of Education Richard Freeland said at the time that it was important for the state to hold the line on the tuition in a poor economy.

Mount Wachusett Community College, based in Gardner, will continue charging $165 per credit hour and Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester will remain at $132 per credit hour. Tuition at each community college is $25 per credit hour set by the state and the remainder is fees the individual colleges charge.

That means students at Fitchburg State College, Framingham State College and Worcester State College will see tuition remain at $970 for the year, although fees will likely increase.

For those schools, tuition is set by the state's Department of Higher Education and that money goes to the state, while the fees each campus sets go to cover costs at that school.

Tough Vote

Worcester State College's board of trustees recently voted to reluctantly raise fees to $5,635, according to LeeAnn Erickson, spokesman for the school. This past year they were $5,200 per student.

"The trustees like to be conservative and they didn't want to raise fees before they knew what the budget would look like," said Erickson. The trustees are keeping the poor economy in mind as they try to keep the impact on students low, she said.

Framingham State College raised its fees per student from $5,171 this past year to $5,570, an increase of $399 for the year. Fitchburg State College's fees per student for the year this fall will be $5,930, up from $5,430.

The University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester for physicians is also keeping its tuition at $8,352, as it was last year, according to Alison Duffy, a school spokesman. Its fees will go up slightly from $5,886 last year to $7,386, an increase of $1,500.

When it comes to private institutions, most schools have made modest increases.

Becker College is the lone local hold-out to make no changes at all in tuition or fees. The tuition will remain at $24,780 because many students of modest means attend the school, and in this economy their families are already struggling, according to school officials.

"It was a difficult decision, but the board felt it was what they should do," said Sandy Lashin-Curewitz, Becker spokesman.

The school is tightening its belt, just as its students' families are doing the same, she said.

Other private institutions, such as Nichols College in Dudley, are raising the tuition from $26,670 to $27,740, which is about a 4 percent increase, according to Dorothy Millhofer, college spokesman.

"We're really trying to make sure that we're looking out for the families," she said. The school has had full enrollment for the last five years and next year it will be the same for the 1,800 full-time students that study business.

Assumption College in Worcester has raised tuition to $29,806 for the fall, up from $28,686 for the 2008-09 school year.

"It is the lowest increase we've had in nine years. We're really trying to keep the cost affordable," said Elizabeth Walker, Assumption's associate director of public affairs.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute raised its tuition by 2.9 percent, the lowest percentage in 20 years, according to Lorraine U. Martinelle, a WPI spokesman.

In a letter to parents in February, WPI President and CEO Dennis Berkey said it had in mind the impact of any increases on families during a difficult economy.

The school's tuition went from $35,850 for the past academic year to $36,890 for the 2009-2010 academic year.

Clark University raised its tuition for the fall to $34,900 from $33,900, while the College of the Holy Cross, raised tuition from $36,710 to $38,180.

"Keeping tuition as low as possible is definitely something that every college is trying to do.

We know that through hearing from our peers around the country, reading higher education publications and the fact that it's the main topic conversation at colleges," said Ellen Ryder, director of public affairs at the College of the Holy Cross.

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