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Meehan Praises UMass Transparency Measure in New State Budget
BOSTON — The new state budget will allow UMass to bring a key business practice into the national mainstream, and dramatically advances the cause of “straightforwardness and transparency” in billing, UMass President Marty Meehan said Friday. The fiscal year 2016 budget signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker will allow UMass, as of 2016-2017, to retain the tuition paid by resident undergraduate students, rather than passing those funds along to the state. “I am pleased that the governor signed what the Legislature sent to him and that the reform UMass has sought for more than two decades has become law. This is a victory for students, for UMass and for transparency,” Meehan said. At the same time, Meehan said he was disappointed by a veto that reduced funding for the five-campus UMass system from the $531.8 million approved by a House-Senate conference committee to $526.6 million. “This veto presents challenges that we must now assess as we pursue our overarching goals of building quality, while at the same time protecting the university’s long-term fiscal stability,” Meehan said. In allowing UMass to retain tuition payments, the budget brings Massachusetts in line with virtually every state in the nation. In recent years, UMass was given the authority to retain the tuition paid by out-of-state students, but had been unable to extend the practice to resident undergraduate students until now. The new policy, which will not take effect until next year, is responsive to calls from state and federal officials for greater transparency and accountability in higher education.

Report: Massachusetts Economy on the Upswing
BOSTON — In a number of important respects, the Massachusetts economy is experiencing its strongest expansion since the heady days of the late 1990s, according to the editorial board of MassBenchmarks. As the board anticipated, this year’s severe winter weather had only a transitory, and ultimately minor, impact on economic conditions in the Bay State. Employment and the labor force are growing strongly, and payroll survey shows consistent and strong growth in employment. And gross state product growth, as estimated by the MassBenchmarks Current Economic Index (CEI), continues to outpace that of the nation. Once again, the state’s knowledge-intensive sectors are its primary growth drivers. Industrially, the expansion is being led by the dynamic professional, scientific, and technical services sector, which includes architectural, engineering, and specialized design services; computer services; computer-systems design; consulting services; research services; and other related services. Employment in software development is also growing strongly. These sectors rely heavily upon the Commonwealth’s highly educated work force, which remains in high demand, as reflected by the fact that college-educated workers continue to have the lowest unemployment rate among all socioeconomic groups in the state. While conditions for less well-educated workers have improved, unemployment and underemployment rates in many communities remain troublingly high. Economic growth continues to be disproportionately concentrated in the Greater Boston region and within the Route 495 belt. While there are notable exceptions to this pattern of imbalanced growth, including the cities of Lowell and Worcester, conditions in regions outside of the Greater Boston region are improving, but their economic performance continues to lag. Notwithstanding the solid performance of the Massachusetts economy, there are a number of short- and long-term threats to growth that could serve to slow and in some cases derail the Commonwealth’s expansion. Growth pressures in the immediate Greater Boston region are placing increased stress on the state’s transportation infrastructure, which this past winter’s severe weather revealed to be in serious need of attention and investment. These same growth pressures, along with inadequate housing production, are fueling rapidly rising home prices throughout Eastern Massachusetts. While this is good news for incumbent homeowners, it puts upward pressure on the cost of living, making it more difficult for the Greater Boston region to attract the highly educated workers it needs to meet the needs of growing knowledge-intensive organizations. And the state’s high electricity prices, which have risen in every corner of the state, are beginning to limit economic growth in regions that are sorely in need of more economic opportunities. In Berkshire, Franklin, and Hampshire counties, new natural-gas hookups have been suspended, which is directly constraining business expansions in Western Massachusetts. Additionally, the relatively slow growth of the global economy and considerable economic and geopolitical uncertainty continue to weigh heavily on the economic outlook for the nation and the Commonwealth. Greece and Puerto Rico appear to be headed for sovereign debt defaults, with highly uncertain impacts for Europe and North America. Critically important trading partners in Asia, including China and Japan, continue to face serious economic challenges. And the Middle East and Eastern Europe remain politically volatile. Going forward, while the Commonwealth’s leaders have little control over what happens internationally, it is well within their power to tackle the challenges presented by aging infrastructure and imbalanced growth patterns, MassBenchmark’s board notes. Toward this end, policies that improve the state’s transportation systems, both within Greater Boston and beyond, and extend educational and economic opportunities to more people and regions that have yet to experience the full benefits of the current economic expansion, should be priorities going forward.

REB Receives Grant from PeoplesBank to Support Talk/Read/Succeed Program
SPRINGFIELD — The Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, Inc. (REB) has received a $2,500 grant award from PeoplesBank to support the work of the Talk/Read/ Succeed (TRS) program. Talk/Read/Succeed is a place-based holistic program and currently serves 150 low- to moderate-income families at two Springfield Housing Authority (SHA) developments in Springfield. The goal of TRS is to have all children enter kindergarten ready to learn and go on to read proficiently by 4th grade. The $2,500 grant award is part of PeoplesBank’s Community Care Program and will be used to support parent education programs at the SHA sites that will focus on how to support children in reaching critical developmental milestones, family health and wellness, adult education and career exploration, and financial literacy. In announcing the award, Susan B. Wilson, first vice president of PeoplesBank said, “at PeoplesBank, we welcome the opportunity to help others. As part of your community, we take an active interest in supporting programs that promote academic excellence for our youth.” David M. Cruise, president & CEO of the REB indicated that, “this award from PeoplesBank allows the REB and its partners to strengthen our parenting education and school engagement programming to support parents as active partners in our work to accelerate student achievement.” William H. Abrashkin, Executive Director of the SHA said “Building community support is vital to the success of Talk/Read/Succeed and its families and children. In particular, it is so important that PeoplesBank, a key member of the business community, has chosen to provide its support. We all know that without an educated workforce, businesses cannot grow and create wealth, and the most effective way to create an educated workforce is to reach families when their children are very young to help ensure that the children are brought up with positive values, including a love of reading, learning, and achievement. That is what TRS is all about, making this a win-win for both the business community and the families we serve.”

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