UM regents limit tuition rise to 4% Assembly asked to cover shortfall of $4.2 million

'A very win-win situation'

Governor, legislators challenged original plan for 6% increase

October 04, 1997|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

Chastened by five weeks of criticism for plans to raise tuition bills by significantly more than the inflation rate, the University System of Maryland regents voted yesterday to limit tuition increases to 4 percent for the next academic year.

The plan, part of the university system's $2.1 billion proposed budget for next year, includes a request that the General Assembly make up the $4.2 million the system will forfeit by reducing tuition increases initially planned for its 11 undergraduate campuses.

"This is a very win-win situation," Lance W. Billingsley, chairman of the board, told reporters after the meeting. "It will enable those students who couldn't afford higher education to have one."

Late last month, Billingsley and other higher education officials met with Gov. Parris N. Glendening after the regents' initial tuition proposal, scheduled for a vote in late August, sparked sharp criticism from elected officials.

Although university officials thought they would be able to maintain their preferred policy, Glendening said such significant increases worked against other efforts by his administration to mitigate rising college costs, including a new pre-paid tuition program for future students.

This week, administration officials said that the governor had made no promises to support the university's request for an additional $4.2 million. But Billingsley said yesterday that he fully expected Glendening and the state legislature to agree to the added subsidy. "If you don't want it to be on the back of students, it has to be on someone's back," he said.

The unanimous vote occurred after a brief public discussion among regents yesterday at a meeting at Frostburg State University in Western Maryland; about 75 people attended.

The regents also adopted guidelines to restrain undergraduate tuition increases to 4 percent for four years beginning in the fall of 1999.

"We're very happy with the responsible decision by the board," said Jessica Aiken, a Frostburg State junior who is a vice chairwoman of the University System of Maryland Student Council.

In absolute terms, the difference between the tuition rates under the amended and original proposals appears rather small.

The University of Maryland, College Park will charge $3,894, instead of $4,000, in tuition next year, a difference of $106. At Bowie State College, full-time students will pay $2,719 rather than $2,797. And Towson University students will face tuition bills of $3,203 instead of $3,296.

But the earlier proposal, suggesting a 6 percent to 7 percent rise, continued a 15-year trend, in Maryland and nationally, of increasing tuition well above the rate of inflation, which currently is below 3 percent. Reports of those proposed increases distressed some Marylanders, including Glendening and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor, an Allegany County Democrat.

University officials say their proposal was driven by the cost of offering better faculty salaries and benefits, improving student and research facilities and sharply upgrading computer-based technology. In addition, state spending on the university system was cut deeply during the recession of the early 1990s. Tuition remains one of the public system's main sources of revenue other than the state.

"Most [people] are really very sympathetic to the notion that we have to have quality, and that the distribution of those costs between the public and the individual is an important question," Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the university system, said in a telephone interview from Frostburg.

The 4 percent rate increase does not affect proposals to raise mandatory fees by a greater percentage, costs that will push the bills faced by all full-time undergraduates above $4,500 at several campuses.

It also does not include charges for room and board, travel and books, which typically cost $4,000 to $6,000 annually.

"It may sound hard-hearted, but attendance at a college or a university is not compulsory -- it's a great investment," Langenberg said. "As the bumper sticker goes, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance."

Special correspondent Nanci Bross-Fregonara contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 10/04/97

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