Md. colleges brace for budget cuts Tuition fees are likely to increase

August 30, 1992|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Faced with chronic budget problems, Maryland's public colleges and universities are bracing for more tuition increases and targeted cuts in certain degree programs.

With a $500 million state budget shortfall looming, the system of higher education may lose about 10 percent of its $629 million in state funds, according to several predictions. The governor plans to announce specific cuts in coming weeks to erase the projected deficit.

Meanwhile, some top educators say they are hoping to spare as much as possible the state's financial aid programs, the University of Maryland's flagship campus in College Park and historically black colleges.

Assuming a major budget hit, schools in the University of Maryland system may "very likely" impose temporary tuition surcharges in the spring semester, said Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University of Maryland System.

"It may be very difficult for some, if not all, of the institutions to avoid tuition increases," he said.

Tuition rose an average of 10 percent during the last school year, LTC while tuition at universities around the country increased by similar or larger amounts, he said.

Digging deeper into students' and parents' pockets is only a partial solution, officials say.

Program cuts, layoffs, furloughs and perhaps salary reductions also will be considered, Dr. Langenberg said.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer is among those who want to rethink Maryland's tendency to distribute budget cuts equally among public institutions.

Maryland should instead begin protecting important departments at some universities, while cutting more deeply into less productive programs at other institutions, they say.

"That's exactly the kind of conversation the governor is having with me," said Shaila R. Aery, Maryland's secretary of higher education. "We need to dig down and do what we do best. That will limit choices somewhat. Certain programs won't be available everywhere."

Supporters of such an approach say it will prevent system-wide academic malaise, while nurturing excellence in selected fields at schools around Maryland.

State Del. Timothy F. Maloney, an influential member of the House Appropriations Committee, says now is the time for universities to focus on priorities and discard the frills. "The silver lining in the budget cuts ought to be a push for additional reorganization," the Prince George's County Democrat said.

A May 1992 study for the Maryland Higher Education Commission contains 109 pages of "low-productivity" programs at four-year institutions and community colleges. Those programs have either awarded 10 or fewer degrees annually or experienced at least a 25 percent drop in enrollment from 1987 to 1991 -- or both.

Examples include vision care technology at Howard Community College, a master's degree program in biological science at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and bachelor's programs in recreation and applied statistics at University of Baltimore.

UMBC places special emphasis on science and technology at the graduate level, yet it offers a master's program in ethnomusicology, awarding only about two degrees a year, the report noted. Ethnomusicology is the study of the music of a particular region or culture.

The report did not advocate deleting any particular program, but it did urge campuses to evaluate the ones mentioned.

People are asking other questions that challenge the traditional way of allocating academic resources.

For example, one politician asked, why do so many schools offer the same specialized degree programs? Why do universities located just miles from each other duplicate programs? Should two public universities in Baltimore offer law degrees, for example? The politician asked to remain anonymous in anticipation of the controversy such queries often ignite.

The latest bad budget news comes on the heels of previous rounds of cuts. The recession has university officials lamenting the loss in momentum to Maryland's 4-year-old commitment to improve the quality of public higher education.

In 1988, the Maryland General Assembly enacted legislation to reorganize the state's public colleges and universities and boost state support for them.

Afterward, tax dollars for four-year public colleges and universities alone increased by a whopping amount, from $551 million in the 1989 fiscal year to $650 million the following year. The trend since then, however, has been downward.

The current appropriation is $598 million for four-year schools. Pessimists note that this amount is 8 percent lower than in 1990, the year funding surged. Optimists will point out that the four-year institutions are still better off -- also by 8 percent -- than they were in 1989.

"We're in a much better position to cope because of the Higher Education Act of 1988," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat.

Still, the days of huge funding increases and robust economic growth appear to be over, Dr. Aery said, and scaling back may be an ongoing feature of the 1990s.

Colleges can no longer be all things to all people: "Not everyone can go everywhere they want to go," Dr. Aery said.

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