Chancellor William E. Kirwan told state lawmakers yesterday that the University System of Maryland has no choice but to pass a rare, midsemester tuition increase of 5 percent at most of its campuses - and that layoffs and further increases are a strong possibility this year.
At a joint hearing before the Senate Budget and Taxation and House Appropriations committees, Kirwan said he would recommend the tuition increase to the Board of Regents at an emergency meeting today.
"We [feel] the consequences of not raising it would do too much damage to the core of our institutions," he said. The increase would be "a burden for students, but also manageable," he added.
Lawmakers, who have no formal say in approving the increase, by and large accepted Kirwan's claim that it was needed in response to cuts to this year's state funding for the 11-campus system.
However, some criticized the system for waiting until the middle of the school year to pass an increase. Others urged the system to find long-term savings, like raising the teaching load of faculty, to reduce its reliance on tuition increases.
"My concern is that you look for structural changes ... to address the deficit," said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican. "We all have to make structural changes."
If approved by the regents, the tuition increase would apply to spring semester bills at all system institutions except Coppin State College and the University of Maryland, University College.
The increase would result in an additional $76 to $115 for in-state undergraduates this semester and $189 to $333 more for out-of-state students, depending on the school they attend. Colleges will use 15 percent of the added revenue to help needy students who can't afford the increase, Kirwan said.
The higher tuition would make up about $13 million of the $36 million cut from this year's budget by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. last week, Kirwan said. The rest of the cut - which comes on top of an earlier $30 million reduction - has been made up mostly by eliminating 193 open positions systemwide.
Kirwan warned that the system may need to take more drastic measures to meet Ehrlich's proposed budget for the fiscal year starting in July, which calls for funding universities at the same level as now, after this year's cuts. The system will likely raise tuition next fall by an additional 4 percent or more, Kirwan said, and may need to lay off dozens of staff and faculty to reduce payrolls by another 100 positions.
"A proportion [of eliminated positions] will be warm bodies," he said.
Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Democrat, asked why the system couldn't dip further into its $250 million reserve fund, which he said was larger than generally recommended for such accounts. Kirwan disagreed, saying the reserves were needed to protect the system's bond rating.
Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat, asked Kirwan whether the system could reduce the size of its administration. McFadden noted a recent article in The Sun about an overlap between the system's $11.5 million central office and the $6.8 million Maryland Higher Education Commission, and said the Senate committee would consider ways to reduce that duplication.
Kirwan welcomed a re-examination of the state's higher education bureaucracy. "At a time like this, everything needs to be on the table," he said. "The question is appropriate."