Midyear increase in tuition approved

UM system regents say they regret move

layoffs, furloughs also discussed

January 24, 2003|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

After an unusually vigorous debate, the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland approved a rare midyear tuition increase yesterday to make up some of the money lost to budget cuts.

The 5 percent increase, in addition to a 5.5 percent increase passed in May, means that undergraduates at most of the state's public four-year colleges and universities will pay 10.8 percent more this semester than they did last spring.

Regents expressed regret about the move, but said $67 million in cuts to this year's budget left them no other option, short of major layoffs.

"It is with great seriousness of purpose and commitment to the students and citizens of this state that we do this," said David Nevins, chairman of the board's finance committee. "This emergency increase is in the best interest of students."

The increase approved yesterday will mean up to $115 in additional charges this semester for in-state students and up to $333 more for out-of-state students.

All the regents present voted for the increase, except for Nathan A. Chapman Jr., who argued that the increase should be even higher to ensure that no employees would have to be laid off.

Greater differences emerged, however, as regents discussed how to respond to the expected shortfall in next year's budget.

Some regents said it is incumbent on the system's 11 campuses to decide on specific layoffs and furloughs to show students that the sacrifice is being shared.

System officials estimate that as many as 100 staff and faculty positions may need to be eliminated next year.

Others, like Chapman, said the board should consider larger tuition increases to avoid losing the gains the system has made in recent years.

"Where do we need to raise tuition to so we can grow the institutions and not lay off these positions?" Chapman said. "It may be time for a new type of leadership."

Nevins noted that a task force appointed by Chancellor William E. Kirwan is studying reforms of the tuition structure that could bring in more revenue without reducing access. The task force had its first public hearing this week at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Regent James C. Rosapepe blamed the midyear tuition increase on the budget proposal released last week by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., which reduced the system's budget for this year by an additional $36 million.

Under former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the system enjoyed the largest funding increases in the nation over the past several years.

"The reality is that the increase ... is not the result of bad times, it is the result of bad choices," said Rosapepe, a former Democratic state lawmaker.

"We need to understand clearly we have been singled out for cuts, and this is not the end."

That view was echoed by Isiah Leggett, chairman of the state Democratic Party, who said the cuts were the result of Ehrlich's resistance to new taxes but amounted to a levy on families with college students.

Others were more sanguine about the increase, which was being discussed as a possibility before Ehrlich took office as it became clear the state was facing a huge budget gap.

"It's necessary," said University of Maryland, College Park President C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr. "It's a very difficult financial time, and the alternative would be much worse."

If the system does turn to furloughs and layoffs this year, it will have to contend with newly formed bargaining units at most campuses that include more than 6,500 employees -- a situation that didn't exist in the early 1990s, when widespread layoffs last occurred.

"Any attempt at firing university staff is going to be met with fierce resistance on the campuses," said Joe Lawrence, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "AFSCME is going to fight this."

In Annapolis

Today's highlights

11 a.m.Senate meets, Senate chamber.

11 a.m.House of Delegates meets, House chamber.

11:30 a.m.House Appropriations Committee, briefing on the capital budget, Room 130, Lowe House Office Building.

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