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How Much Is Free Tuition Worth?

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV
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WBZ-TV's Joe Shortsleeve Joe Shortsleeve
Joe Shortsleeve is chief correspondent for WBZ-TV News weekdays a...
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BOSTON (CBS) – The cost of college these days is staggering. However, here in Massachusetts if your child gets a great score on the MCAS exam they can get free tuition at a state school.

But as Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve says, it sounds like a great deal but you need to read the fine print.

Richard Kramer of Sharon has a message for state education officials.

“If you walked onto a used car lot and they operated this way they would be in jail.”

What is he talking about? You see, his daughter is a freshman at UMASS Amherst.

WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports.

Her senior year in high school she scored “advanced” on the state’s MCAS exam. So Dad was delighted when he got a letter stating she had qualified for the state’s John and Abigail Adams Scholarship which entitled her to “four years of free tuition at a University of Massachusetts campus…”

Kramer says “it was pretty exciting…. free tuition at UMASS Amherst…sounds like pretty good deal!!”

Yes it does sound great. Especially when you consider what college tuition is these days. At Boston College and Boston University tuition is almost 40 thousand dollars or more than 75% of the total bill which is tops 50 thousand dollars.

So what do you think the tuition is at UMASS Amherst?

We asked a half dozen college students and got the following responses.

“30 thousand dollars?”

“At UMASS Amherst for a semester?”

“Yes”

“…yea…15 thousand dollars…?”

Not even close. The tuition at UMASS is just $857.00 a semester!

That makes the scholarship worth a little more than $1,700 each year.

That is against a total bill of $20,545 or about 12%. Not 75% percent like BC or BU.

The scholarship letter signed by the states secretary of education does inform students that…

“….college fees can be up to four times the cost of tuition….”

And that is true.

You see UMASS Amherst charges $8000 dollars a year for what the school calls a “curriculum fee!”

Parents like Richard Kramer say while they are grateful for the scholarship money they say a “curriculum fee” is simply another word for tuition.

“I think if I were the judge sitting on this case I would decide that “tuition” means what people think it means and that state has made a promise and they ought to refund the over charges!”

Now we wanted to talk to state education officials about this topic and the choice of words. But as you might guess they did not want to talk us. Safe to say consider it a good education to learn to read the fine print.

The scholarship program was started in 2005 during Governor Mitt Romney’s administration.

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