UM system members fear effects of state cuts

Budget woes seen forcing colleges' enrollment down

February 22, 2003|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

If state lawmakers cut any deeper into the University System of Maryland's budget, its colleges may not be able to enroll as many students as they had planned in coming years, system officials warned yesterday.

At a meeting in Adelphi, the Board of Regents asked college presidents to produce estimates by next month of how their schools' future enrollments would be affected by large budget cuts.

The 11-campus system's projections call for it to grow by 14,000 to 20,000 full-time students in the next 10 years, mainly because of the demographic phenomenon known as the "baby boomlet" or "baby boom echo."

Presidents said yesterday that they wouldn't be able to absorb all that enrollment growth if they sustain further budget cuts, and that students could be denied access to higher education as a result.

"We have a bubble coming through the pipeline, but the suggestion is that we may not be able to accommodate as many numbers as we'd like to," said system spokesman Francis Canavan.

The system's state funding for this year has been cut by $67 million, to about $800 million. Under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s proposed budget for next year, state funding would stay at that level.

But system officials are worried they could sustain even deeper cuts next year - especially if Ehrlich's plan for slot machine gambling isn't passed. Legislative analysts have recommended an additional $38 million in cuts for the system.

In response to the cuts, the regents passed a midyear tuition increase of up to 5 percent last month. Seven system students are challenging that increase in court.

Yesterday, regents took another step to close the shortfall, passing rules and guidelines for colleges to follow in furloughing employees. A few colleges are considering furloughs this year, while many more are predicting they'll be needed in the fiscal year starting in July.

Under the guidelines, furloughs may not result in canceling classes and "shall be implemented in a manner that ensures the continuation of essential services with minimum disruption."

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