Sticker shock eased on tuition Fees: The state plans added funding to reduce the increases proposed by colleges. But much of the increases can be explained by cuts in government support.

Education Beat

September 28, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

A month ago, the University System of Maryland was set to hit students with another round of stiff tuition increases, in some cases at more than twice the rate of inflation.

But this time, the Board of Regents' express ran into a roadblock when The Sun published a story about the plan the day before the regents were to vote on it.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and other state leaders can read. They also know where the votes are. In one day, they forced the regents to delay action on the increases until their October meeting Friday in Frostburg.

Negotiators, meanwhile, are working on a plan that will ease the burden. Tuition increases will fall back from the levels proposed in August (although they'll still outpace inflation), and the state will make up at least some of the difference by increasing general fund appropriations to the university system.

"This would be a victory for everyone," University of Maryland, College Park President William E. Kirwan said in his annual "state of the university" address last week. College Park was about to boost tuition and fees by 7.7 percent, to $4,805. University of Maryland, Baltimore County planned $4,957 in mandatory charges, an 8.5 percent increase -- almost three times the 1997 rate of inflation.

Yet it's too easy to paint the regents and system officials as money-hungry villains out to pick the pockets of students and their parents. Maryland isn't the only state experiencing a long-range decline in state support of higher education. In actual dollars -- not even adjusted for inflation -- state support for the Maryland university system today is less than it was in 1991.

It amounts to this: Students at UMBC, Towson, Coppin and College Park and the rest are paying for prisons and expensive social welfare programs that, unlike a college education, are required by federal and state law.

"Almost the entire difference between the rate of inflation and the rate of tuition is reflected in the falloff in state support," said Charles F. Sturtz, College Park's vice president for administrative affairs.

Moreover, Sturtz said, the public universities, like their private counterparts, are plowing as much money as they can into student aid. College Park has 32,000 students -- 17,000 of whom have discounts in the form of scholarships and loans.

In its annual tuition report last week, the College Board, higher education's national gatekeeper, said America's 12.2 million undergraduates have access to $56 billion a year in college aid. This sum represents the difference between the colleges' sticker prices and what the majority of students actually pay. In this light, perennial tuition increases are more understandable, if no easier to take.

Another factor is sticker shock, which is fanned by media attention to the relatively few elite private colleges that cost as much as $1,000 a week. In fact, the College Board report said, most students in four-year colleges and universities pay less than $4,000 a year. Nearly three-quarters pay less than $8,000.

But there's a disturbing downside.

Lawrence Gladieux, a policy analyst for the College Board, noted that though the $56 billion in total aid available is 70 percent more than a decade ago after adjusting for inflation, two-thirds of the increase has come in loan programs. The federal government is giving away less money and lending more.

Although the maximum amount of federal Pell Grants for the neediest students was increased this year, the 25-year-old program has lost considerable ground to inflation, Gladieux said. A Pell Grant student attending UMBC in the late 1970s would have had three-quarters of the bill covered. Today, a Pell Grant covers only a third of UMBC's costs.

Middle-income students lack neither choices in higher education nor the means to pay for those choices. Low-income students are in danger of losing both, which should be a matter of national concern.

Universities get creative to secure donations

Sept. 20 was the deadline for sending contributions to Georgia State University and being assured no fund-raiser would interrupt your dinner.

Georgia State is one of a handful of colleges employing a telemarketing-avoidance pitch as a donor inducement, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The University of Central Florida sends postcards with a photograph of a 2-year-old holding a telephone. A caption threatens, "Don't make me have to call you."

Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill., assures alumni that they won't be invited to a fund-raising dinner if they shell out. "No sitting with someone whose cologne is too strong," Trinity promises.

Electronic homecoming marks 50th anniversary

The University of Maryland University College, a nontraditional school with students and alumni all over the world, held an electronic homecoming this weekend to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Video conferencing allowed alumni and staff in College Park, Tokyo, and Heidelberg, Germany, to meet and greet. Browsers in an electronic yearbook could look up people who graduated from Tokyo in 1974 or Heidelberg in 1989.

Over the 50 years, UMUC has enrolled more than 2.6 million students, most of them part time, overseas and in the United States. Many graduates never set foot in Maryland or meet professors face-to-face. Enrollment this fall is 33,000 on seven continents.

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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