Hard Times at Towson State

November 13, 1992

Towson State University got a reprieve recently when the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education decided re-evaluate the school's teacher training program.

The council ruled last March that the program had too many part-time instructors and too few minority faculty members to merit accreditation. That was quite a blow to an institution founded in 1866 as Maryland's first teacher factory. So Towson appealed the ruling. The Washington-based accrediting firm now admits its review was flawed and plans to re-examine the school by 1994.

Indeed, the past few years have brought more than a few blows for Towson -- enough so that Hoke Smith has called this the toughest period of his 13 years as university president. The instrument of those blows? The budget ax that has chopped $123 million in state funds from the University of Maryland System since the end of the 1980s. Of the latest system-wide cuts totaling $19.1 million, Towson's share is $2.1 million.

The effects of the cuts on Towson typify the hardships at most other public colleges in Maryland: Firings and furloughs of teachers and other staffers. Book orders put on hold. Buildings closed for lack of maintenance funds. Athletic teams shut down. Larger class sizes as enrollment grows and the faculty dwindles. Decreased occupancy of dormitories as students opt for the cheaper rates of the family homestead.

And tuition increases. For full-time students who are Maryland residents, Towson's annual tuition has climbed by a third, from $1,430 in 1989 to $1,924 this year. That doesn't include fees that can add $1,000 to each student's overall costs. Compared to costs at private schools, those are still bargain prices, but as they continue to rise, they could defeat the public university's purpose of making higher education affordable to all citizens.

Unfortunately for Towson and other state schools, the bleak economic picture doesn't figure to brighten much in the coming years. The University of Maryland Board of Regents has at last realized major structural changes are required if the system is to avoid these annual encounters with the budget ax. While the changes will mean yet more painful blows for Towson and the other schools -- for example, consolidation and privatization of certain programs, and probably the loss of the NCATE seal of approval for Towson -- the streamlined result should prove a preferable alternative to a system slowly bleeding to death.

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