How Much Is Free Tuition Worth?

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV

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?”


“…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.

  • parent

    I thought MCAS is taken the 10th (soph) year, not senior year, (by then the kids are already applying for schools). When this program started in 2005 I made sure I fully understood the program, in case my kids did very well on the exam. Make no assumptions.

  • Matt Forrest

    I feel for the family here; however, in these days and times you must always read the fine print. Perhaps the university will refund some of the student’s money, but I doubt it. I learned this as well. I qualify for a tuition waiver at state schools as well (for a different reason), but I looked into it and realized that tuition is only small piece of the bill. It is deceiving. They should change their wording.

    • Kenneth Browne

      If a student attends a local community college for two years (living at home) and then transfers to a UMass campus to finish a bachelor’s degree they would end up with a substantial savings and no huge student loans to pay off. But I fully agree that the “curriculum fee” is just another way to say tuition.

  • Kenneth Browne

    As a Vietnam Vet I too was entitled to free tuition when I returned to UMass in the 90’s after a three decade gap. Since I was commuting to campus my costs were negligible, right? Not so. I too got the “curriculum fee” which pretty much was equal to tuition, plus all the other fees. I only had to attend part time for three semesters to finish my degree but had to borrow several thousand $$ to finish a BA degree that I’m not really using.

    • Roni

      Some scholarships are paid deilctry to you. These are usually not related to the college you’re attending. Most scholarships are paid deilctry to the college.In most cases, you get financial aid Christmas that’s a day each semester when we get all of the excess financial aid money in our financial aid account. ☺Caution though many scholarships are need based. That means if you get another scholarship that covers cost, you no longer have need and drop that one.Know too very often, if there is excess money (above tuition) in your financial aid account, you can charge your books to that account at the campus bookstore. There may be an application fee to allow this look into it. Otherwise, you have to buy your books out of your pocket well before financial aid Christmas’.

  • KF4766

    My son received this letter as well. I in no way felt deceived. It was pretty clear that the scholarship only covered tuition and not fees. I am quite happy to take the nearly $4,000 they are willing to give to reward my son’s hard work!

    • kSH

      you wont be getting nearly $4,000, its about $800 twice a year ($1,600/year). Both of my children qualified but when my son started UMASS we had to borrow nearly $12,000 twice a year ($24,000/year). Abigail Adams is a SCAM to get high performing students to attend state colleges.

  • Paul

    Why does this surprise anyone? How many times have you heard our State politicians promise NO NEW TAXES….then proceed to triple all of the State “FEES”.

    • JAFO

      Stay on topic. What has “no new taxes” got to do with this article? Rant somewhere else!!!

      • Cynic

        I see Pauls point……It’s a very good one….Only a fool would believe the State.Don’t raise taxes…Call them something else.Give FREE tuition… Well Not exactly.

  • JAFO

    In my opinion, this segment of the news was designed to make fun of the Massachusetts’ higher education. In doing so, it also made the father of a recipient of this scholarship to be a fool.

    Good work CBS…NOT!!!!!!!!!!

  • Sean Mulready

    Doesn’t UMass still offer “needs based” financial aid? For most students who would see the Adams Scholarship as a benefit, there is little benefit at all. Most would likely have gotten that money based upon their family’s ability to pay. It would be worth checking back for the tape of Mitt Romney announcing this program to students at Brockton High School. Did his language pass the “used car salesman” test when he announced the program?

  • CEO

    My son was a recipient of the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship and was glad to shave a little bit off his total cost of going to UMass. Still, this is a joke. Did we REALLY think our kids would get almost a free ride at a state university like California does? Of course not. Massachusetts residents are used to being misled and lied to by our politicians. The Adams Scholarship was nothing but a PR stunt that puts peanuts back in our pockets by clever wordsmithing to avoid the implied intent. They’re saving the REAL money to give illegal immigrants a free ride at state schools. Just ask Deval. That’s what he wants to do.

    • Chief Executive Officer

      This person said his son received the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, but did he read the attached letter? It clearly states the scholarship is for tuition only and fees are a separate charge.

      Stop blaming others for your lack of understanding for the written word.

    • Mark B Watkins

      I’m not sure I would ask Deval……but you can move to California – you’ll sure like it much better – as they don’t have any PR stunts there…..there politicians don’t lie and no one is misled…….and they can afford to subsidized all the college costs (NOT!).

  • Tom

    In his article, Mr. Shortsleeve neglects to mention how this discrepancy between tuition and fee rates came about. Historically tuition went back to the state and fees stayed with the institution. For at least the last decade, state funding of the University system has dropped precipitously. While deep cuts were made, the University still had to raise fees significantly to make up the remaining funding gap. Essentially the state made “spending cuts” at the state level by shifting educations costs from the whole state populace to individual families. This was especially true of the Romney administration.

    Mr. Shortsleeve also neglects to mention that by virtue of being Mass residents, in-state University students save an additional 12K per year in tuition and fees over other UMass students.

    Given that Boston College never had to return tuition $$ to the state, subsidize in-state students, or deal with state budget cuts, I think is rather dubious to compare the two institutions. Instead of producing an informative piece about the difficulties of funding quality higher education in Massachusetts, Mr. Shortsleeve decided to go with a sensationalist piece that is full of quotes from a disgruntled parent, but distinctly lacking any meaningful thought.

    But maybe that is to be expected nowadays from someone from Boston who went to private college.

  • singledad

    Hi, Joe,

    This is nothing new. When they set up the program, I was taking some graduate courses at UMass Lowell and both my girls were in school. At the time, tuition was low, and I was surprised by the “fees” charged for the school. When I did some research, I found out that Tuition is set by the Legislature, and that money goes into the Commonwealth’s General Fund. Each campus then sets the fees based on the needs for that campus, so, the fees vary and are where the individual campus pays for any expenses not covered by what the Legislature decides to provide the particular campus. So, as you found out, what is termed “tuition” is, in fact, not as inclusive as it is for ANY private school.

    I wonder if there is a legal definition for “tuition” like there is for marriage?

  • Acadian

    Interesting report. You cannot compare UMA to BC nor BU. BC or BU would give you $20K, the student still has to come up with $30K ($20K+room+board). Going to BC or BU means Parent Plus loans, unless you are rich.
    (good research by singledad.)

  • gradmom7

    My son was also awarded this ‘tuition break’ and I understood the fine print. It was the sentence that said, “students must maintain a 3.0 GPA that had me a bit confused. I have tried to contacting someone at the state education department to see if his means at the end of each semester, or by the end of each school year (June). NO ONE has responded to my question. If anyone out there knows the answer to this, I would love to know the answer.

  • Acadian

    SAP will be the last day of school – May 12, Thursday.
    Measurement for SAP is conducted at the close of the spring semester.

  • Paula Pickett

    TWO POINTS- The biggest sham of the whole program is the fanfare that surrounds the visit by the governor and other politician to a local school to present this to students, parents and the media that has been covering it. They don’t take the time during the photo op to expose the fine print. Thanks to Joe Shortsleeve for reporting the truth. Each year when these letter have been presented I have sent a letter to the editor of the Globe never to see it have the light of day but the photo is always front and center in the paper.
    2. I would be curious to know how many of these scholarships are lost in the the first year. My son was a fairly good student from Latin Academy and went away to a state school. Away from home for the first time and getting used to college routines, he received a C+ in a course leaving him with a 2.86 GPA resulting in loss of the “scholarship” in the first year. I doubt he is alone in this.

    • Mark B Watkins

      I graduated with I think a 2.8. However this was before the scholarship, so I didn’t get have this opportunity. Education is paramount, I think we all agree on this and that’s what this is about. If you’re son doesn’t maintain an average above a certain he forfeits the scholarship….seems fair to me and perhaps they should actually raise the bar…..perhaps if had the scholarship I would have attained a 3.0? So you’re son falls below the GPA standard and you still want it….I don’t get it…..

  • Buy, sell and find what you’re looking for in our online classifieds

    […] How Much Is Free Tuition Worth? 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. Read more on CBS Boston […]

  • Steve

    This has been the case for at least 20 years. I remember buddies of mine who were Gulf War veterans who were given free tuition for life at all Massachusetts state colleges and universities by then-governor Romney, and even back then in 1992, state colleges’ “tuition” was a pure fiction when compared with the actual cost of attendance. Evidently the artificically low “tuition” was used as a bait-and-switch even back then; places such as Worcester State often boasted loudly that they had not raised “tuition” in over x many years.

    • ALi

      Mohamed,you can apply to any which you feel you may qualify for. Whatever ollcege you are interested in contact them about their art program to discuss what student aid they have. They will have other student aid programs that are not art specific which you can qualify for. Consider grants too and need based aid. Contact your local Institute of Arts and ask them about local art schools they can recommend and also ask them about student aid programs for art students. This will be a invaluable resource for you which most art students overlook or won’t even think about.

  • Mark Watkins

    As a UMASS graduate I’m blown away that people are trying to pull further money out of the system and trying to dispute a scholarship the famous Adams family established. Come on Joe, don’t we have some more news worthy articles? You should be honored and grateful, yet you ask for more – and in this economy. These people are narrow minded and don’t understand how good they have it. They then go on to compare the incident to the practices at a used car lot? BTW, it is my experience that used car lots do have additional ‘fees’ – but that aside. UMASS Amherst is 1/3 or so of the cost for comparable institutions; it’s one of the best bargains out there. I believe there is a clear difference between a curriculum fee and tuition and that they’re clearly defined – drive around the Amherst campus and you’ll quickly see that it takes more than just tuition to run the place. I can understand how you would think tuition covers “it all” as tuition is commonly used as a term to cover all the costs, but to then dispute it……and of course we have to bring up the litigious comment – if I were a judge….we’ll of course, you’re the plaintiff – but the point being in America we always think of lawsuits and that’s one of the main reasons we’re in the financial condition we’re in…..(in China they don’t sue like we do)……

    I graduated with loans, albeit small when compared to many others – but it made me work that much harder and I can tell you without hesitation that I was much further ahead of many of my peers that attended other schools, at least financially when I graduated – i.e. I was paid well and my loans were a small fraction of what they would have been had I attended a school charging the avg tuition, and other fees.

    Look we’re in a recession – and need to focus on getting back on track and these types of claims are not only distracting they’re ridiculous. You know, you don’t have to accept the scholarship and maybe you’ll quickly realize it’s better than the alternatives!

    A very proud 95 graduate. Unfortunately Mitt came after I graduated – and the scholoarship wasn’t around……so let me leave you with a pitch for Mitt – Mitt for president….I think that’s a little more of a priority, but to each their own.

  • KSH

    you wont be getting nearly $4,000, its about $800 twice a year ($1,600/year). Both of my children qualified but when my son started UMASS we had to borrow nearly $12,000 twice a year ($24,000/year). Abigail Adams is a SCAM to get high performing students to attend state colleges. WOW!

  • CBS BOSTON: How Much is Free Tuition Worth? | More Money, More Problems

    […] CBS Boston Article  […]

blog comments powered by Disqus
Taz Show
Download Weather App

Listen Live