The recent celebration of Higher Education Awareness Week in Maryland was bittersweet.
Facing financial pressures of unprecedented proportions, many presidents, trustees and higher education representatives visited Annapolis, anxious to talk with legislators about the devastating impact of the current financial crisis on their institutions.
Although members of the Senate and House of Delegates were gracious, their responses were not encouraging.
Maryland's private and public colleges have been hurt by the financial crisis. In fiscal year1992 alone, state aid has been cut by a whopping 32 percent, a loss of $10 million.
In the end, of course, the state and its citizens are the real losers.
For a relatively modest investment in independent institutions, Maryland reaps enormous dividends.
The independent schools, for example, provide 20,000 jobs throughout the state, many of them in Carroll.
Johns Hopkins University alone brings $600million annually in federal research and development funds into Maryland. No university in the nation generates more.
And, the independent colleges and universities contribute about $45 million a year infinancial aid to Maryland's low- and middle-income students, keepingthe state's best young scholars at home.
Every year, Western Maryland College and the other independent institutions enroll about 36,000 students, saving the state more than $140 million per year -- the approximate cost of educating them in public institutions (if there is room for them).
Beyond this, for only 3 percent of the state's general education fund, the independents produce more than 21 percent of Maryland's college and university graduates -- not a bad return onthe taxpayer's dollar.
As noted in a recent editorial in The Baltimore Sun, Western Maryland College is not only a place where the education of students comes first, it is also a "major economic and cultural center for Carroll County and the adjoining fringe of Pennsylvania, with its concerts, lectures, book review lunches and summer theater . . ."
Another editorial in The Evening Sun, recognizing WMC's 125 years of service to the region, said it is "hard to imagine Westminster or Carroll County without the college that is a main industry,an intellectual stimulus and a local mecca of performing arts."
All of these benefits and many more are jeopardized as independent colleges and universities make deep budget cuts. At Western Maryland College, in fiscal year 1992, we experienced an unanticipated $400,000 cut in our state allocation.
As a result, we must impose a hiring and a salary freeze, curtail acquisition of needed books and equipment, dramatically reduce all departmental budgets and defer needed maintenance.
Although we will keep the increase minimal, we must increase our tuition next year. We have reached the limit of what we can accomplish by frugality and creativity.
At a time when state-aided colleges and universities should be seen as assets and resources for strengthening Maryland's economy, we are under siege.
Serious harm has been done to the partnership between the state's public and private colleges to create a system with academic quality and access for all Maryland students.
Further cuts will cripple the system, and all of us will suffer.
Our resources have been sliced to the bone. We have contributed all we can to help resolve the current financial crisis.
We implore our legislators and the governor to make no further reductions in state aid to private or public colleges.
Robert H. Chambers is president of Western Maryland College in Westminster.