WORCESTER - University of Massachusetts President Martin Meehan noted that in-state enrollment at the state’s elite private colleges has been declining for 30 years.

Before giving a talk at the Worcester Economic Club’s 554th meeting Wednesday night at the College of the Holy Cross, the UMass president and former congressman from Lowell said he believes that at the same time, 70 percent of UMass graduates stay in the state after they graduate.

Those graduates, Mr. Meehan said, make up the backbone of the state’s highly educated workforce.

Mr. Meehan was elected president of the UMass system in 2015; he previously served as chancellor at UMass Lowell for eight years. Himself a UMass Lowell grad, Mr. Meehan said that when he became president of the 75,000-student system, he brought with him a unique perspective.

“I would look at students on a UMass campus and I would feel that was me,” Mr. Meehan said.

In today’s competitive college and job markets, UMass, with its commitment to research and expanding internship and co-op experiences, is well-positioned, Mr. Meehan said.

And in cities like Worcester, the university plays a role in the community, too, Mr. Meehan said. He said he can remember the days in Lowell when UMass would direct students through Chelmsford to get to campus. There was a feeling that the school wasn’t part of the city.

But that’s changing, as people are returning to cities, and Mr. Meehan said UMass is committed to public-private partnerships that can be part of that revitalization. He said Worcester’s recent successes have not been overlooked. He said he was impressed to see the city successfully lure the Pawtucket Red Sox away from Rhode Island. He said he believes locating the UMass Medical School in Worcester had a tremendous impact on the city and the region.

Mr. Meehan said UMass is committed to maintaining a high quality educational experience while growing enrollment. He said the university system is no longer thought of as a “safety school” for high school seniors; he said the system spent $670 million on research in fiscal 2017; around $300 of that was at the medical school in Worcester, he added.

He said he has concerns about the cost of higher education today, including at UMass. He said he is looking to raise more money for scholarships, and to offer more internship and work experience opportunities to help students pay their way through college, and to help make sure they aren’t saddled with debt after they graduate.

One area Mr. Meehan said he also hopes to expand into is UMass’ online education infrastructure. He said he wants to find a way to use technology to reach people who may have some college credit and might benefit from some sort of certificate program.

He said for a long time higher education institutions didn’t feel they had to act in an entrepreneurial way. Even though the university system gets some subsidy from the state, it needs to manage and grow, and he said he’s mindful of things like bond ratings and how they affect interest rates. Being in good financial health is important, he said.

“Higher education is going to change dramatically over the next decade, and higher education needs to become more nimble,” Mr. Meehan said.