ANNAPOLIS -- A hiring freeze that increased the size of his classes more than 50 percent forced one Towson State University professor this semester to resort to multiple choice quizzes because he didn't have time to grade essay tests.
At the University of Baltimore, students also found themselves in larger classes in September because of a spurt in enrollment that coincided with the loss of 29 sections in liberal arts and business.
And difficulty finding money to pay the salaries of part-time faculty could mean a loss of up to 50 class sections at Frostburg State University next fall, the president there says.
Add a 15 to 17 percent tuition increase at many public university campuses throughout the state, and the result is worried students.
"If we can't invest in education now, we won't be able to compete," said Arnold Lord, 23, a finance major at UB.
"The population is growing older and we need to do it across the board on a long-term basis, because education is the heart and soul of thiscountry."
He was among about 50 students from Towson, UB, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Salisbury State University and Frostburg State University who braved the rain to protest education budget cuts in a rally at the State House last night.
Their faces drenched with rain, the letters on their cardboard signs ("No Christmas for Maryland colleges!") nearly washed away, the students stood up to the weather by donning plastic garbage bags decorated with school decals.
"I was hoping it would rain because our presence would make such a statement," said David Smith, president of the UMBC Student Government Association.
Students said their three-hour vigil is a reminder that the University of Maryland System's flagship campus at College Park is not the only one feeling the pain of budget cuts. Several thousand College Park students protested cuts on that campus 12 days ago, and a "teach-in" featuring day-long information sessions in the Student Union is scheduled for Monday.
In response, several lawmakers have introduced bills to restore as much as $108 million to higher education across the state.
The state-funded portion of the 11-campus public university system's budget has dropped by about one-fourth in the past two years, according to Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg.
UB has lost 48 part-time faculty to date, and administrators fear that further cuts could jeopardize the accreditation of the business school. However, students on that campus will see some relief next semester, when 20 percent more class sections will be available than were offered last spring, according to Katie Ryan, spokeswoman for UB.
At least a dozen UB students have already made at least one trip to Annapolis to privately approach lawmakers in their offices and explain the impact of the budget cuts.
Towson State, which has seen a 15 percent drop in its budget -- $9.6 million -- has given up 65 positions by attrition, including 20 faculty posts.
At the same time, enrollment in popular programs, such as speech and mass communications, has skyrocketed to 1,200, up from 850 majors in 1988.
One result is that the department could accommodate fewer than half the students who sought courses in radio, film and television this fall semester.
UMBC has laid off 26 staffers. "The whole state is hurting," Robert L. Rasera, professor of physics at UMBC and chair of the faculty council, said from under his umbrella at the State House.
About 20 students from Johns Hopkins University and Goucher College turned out in a show of support for students at the state's public universities.
"We want to support education," said Aneesh Chopra, a Hopkins student.