BOSTON (CBS) – New UMass President Marty Meehan has a message for alumni, private-sector donors and, most of all, Beacon Hill – the public higher education system, a crucial engine of social mobility and economic development – needs your help, and needs it now.

In his first TV interview since his unanimous selection last week to succeed Robert Caret as head of the UMass system, Meehan, who takes office July 1, zeroed in on pressing financial needs, including scholarship aid, operating expenses, and long-deferred infrastructure maintenance and repair. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan think tank, funding for higher ed is down 36% in Massachusetts since the recession of 2008, the eighth-worst decline in the nation.

“We got more money from the state as a practical matter for operating budgets when Mitt Romney was governor,” Meehan tells WBZ. “Would I like the state to pay for the buildings the way they do in Maryland, the way they do in California, the way they do in most of the great public university systems in the country? Of course I would.”

But Massachusetts, he says, seems to have an attitude problem toward higher education.

“Political leadership in Massachusetts has had a tendency over the last three decades to view UMass as kind of safety net for those folks who aren’t smart enough to get into the private elite schools or can’t afford to go to the private elite. When I graduated from UMass Lowell [in 1978], the state paid about 88% of the budget, now they pay about 23% of it,” Meehan said.

Like his predecessor, Meehan is offering Beacon Hill a deal – keep our funding reasonable and stable and we’ll do the same with costs, hopefully assuaging chronic public concerns over rising fees and tuition.

“If you give us this amount of money we’ll be able to keep tuition and fees level, if you don’t we’ll have to increase tuition and fees,” suggests Meehan. “We need a sustainable financial model.”

Meehan, 58, has been Chancellor of UMass Lowell since 2007. Before that he served seven terms in Congress representing the Fifth Congressional District.

Jon Keller

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