Elected officials in Annapolis have not been kind to the University of Maryland System since the recession hit this state. The university has gotten clobbered from a financial standpoint, taking some of the biggest hits of any agency of government. That kind of beating cannot continue, though, without turning UM's campuses into backwater institutions of higher learning.
In this next fiscal year, state aid to the University of Maryland schools could be a stunning $125 million less than it was five years ago. Annapolis now supplies only about one-third of UM's budget, compared with nearly 50 percent five years ago. UM is becoming less and less a state university.
Recessionary cutbacks have included freezes on faculty salaries, a 60 percent reduction in central administration and delays in capital fix-ups. Moreover, tuition fees have soared -- 16 percent in the last year alone.
Such cutbacks and holddowns are understandable in a recession, but they cannot be continued indefinitely without causing long-term harm. Yet the Schaefer administration is proposing a virtual freeze on UM expenses for the coming year. It is planning on a 1 percent overall rise in costs -- not even enough to pay for inflationary increases. It means there will be no money to equip or operate new buildings nearing completion.
UM officials are lobbying hard for a little breathing room. They don't want to raise tuition by another 16 percent to run these new buildings -- which include the University of Baltimore's new business school, the Catonsville campus' library, the Plant Sciences Building at College Park and the Performing Arts Center at Frostburg.
Nor do they want to leave these buildings vacant. And they certainly don't want to delay facility repairs yet again or deny professors a minimal pay adjustment to squeeze out enough money to operate these buildings.
That's not sound management. The University of Maryland needs sufficient state backing to operate these new buildings and to restore some of the fiscal balance of the pre-recession years.
The level of state support for higher education has fallen dramatically. In fact, Maryland now ranks lowest among 15 southern states in financing public higher education as a percentage of tax revenues.
Maryland ought to do better. We urge the governor to include higher education among his budget priorities when he makes his final decisions late this year. As the lingering effects of the recession begin to lift, Mr. Schaefer and legislative leaders should do what they can to demonstrate a heightened commitment to higher education. It is a crucial element in Maryland's future that elected officials have given short shrift in recent years.