July 13, 2024

Sen. Pacheco sponsors a study examining declining enrollment in UMass system

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The study will examine factors contributing to declining enrollment, along with recommendations for solutions aimed at reversing trends

Boston— Dean of the Massachusetts Senate Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton) announces that an amendment he sponsored to establish a study to examine declining enrollment in the University of Massachusetts system was adopted during the Senate FY25 budget debate on Wednesday.

According to information from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, since 2019, the five-campus system has seen declining undergraduate enrollments every year, from 57,199 in 2019 to 53,854 in 2023. The Department of Higher Education also reported a steady decline in student retention into the second year of university, with 2016’s retention rate of 94% dropping to 90% in 2021.

The amendment calls for the creation of a commission that will be responsible for a report submitted to the legislature by January 1, 2025 which will include recommendations for short-and long-term solutions and best practices to increase each campus’ enrollment numbers and reverse these trends.

“We know that, across education, decades of declining birthrates in Massachusetts and the country have shrunk the college age population and led to a drop in college enrollments in recent decades,” said Senator Pacheco. “To make up for that lost revenue from declining enrollment, the system must innovate its offerings to give more students the opportunity to take advantage of the high-quality education these institutions offer. This could mean looking at opportunities outside of the typical degree, via additional certificate and workforce development programs, an expansion of virtual education, or even creating a physical presence beyond the five campuses of the Commonwealth.”

The report will also include information including the past seven years of enrollment and employment numbers for the system and its individual campuses, national trends in enrollments in public higher educational systems and the factors, barriers and issues that have impacted enrollment.

“The University of Massachusetts system is the cornerstone of our public higher education landscape in our Commonwealth,” said Senator Pacheco. “This report will take a holistic approach to studying declining enrollment that will allow state and university officials to ascertain what must be done to reverse these concerning trends.”

The commission will include two members of the board of higher education to be appointed by the secretary of education to serve as co-chairs. It will also include a representative from each campus within the university of Massachusetts segment to be appointed by the secretary of education, the chair of the board of trustees of the University of Massachusetts, the commissioner of higher education, a representative from American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 93, a representative from the National Association of Government Employees, one member to be appointed by the governor, the chairs of the joint committee on higher education, a representative from the American Federation of Teachers -Massachusetts and a representative from Massachusetts Teachers Association.

“For this commission to be successful and to understand why enrollment has declined, we need to bring a wide range of stakeholders to the table,” said Senator Pacheco.

According to the University of Massachusetts, the system generates as much as $8.3 billion to the Massachusetts economy each year and is the state's third-largest employer, with 26,000 employees, while also supporting around 40,000 external jobs across the state.

UMass produces 20,000 graduates each year and has 330,000 alums living and working in Massachusetts. 75% of graduates live and work in Massachusetts five years after graduation.

“Investments in the system not only produce highly skilled and educated workers, but workers that stay in our Commonwealth, which moves the Massachusetts economy forward,” said Senator Pacheco. “This university system is too valuable a resource for us to neglect. The time to start addressing declining enrollment is now.”

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