Cutting too deep

March 24, 2003|By William E. Kirwan and William R. Brody | William E. Kirwan and William R. Brody,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IN RECENT years, Maryland and its citizens have been wonderfully supportive of the state's colleges and universities, both public and private. And those institutions -- both public and private -- have repaid that investment many times over.

For one thing, of course, they provide an educated work force and citizenry. They also generate jobs, philanthropic gifts, federal research funding and student and visitor spending that are a huge economic shot in the arm for Maryland, especially in times like these.

That's why it's so disheartening to be where we are today: facing the prospect that elected leaders in Annapolis may be preparing to do catastrophic damage to the state's No. 1 growth industry: the Knowledge Business.

We in higher education understand that these are tough times. Everyone -- our colleges and universities most definitely included -- must do their part to help close the deficit in the state's budget.

And in fact, we have done our part.

For example, the University System of Maryland (USM), which represents less than 10 percent of the state's budget, accounts for nearly one-third of the budget cuts contained in the fiscal year 2004 budget originally proposed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. In the past year, support for independent colleges and universities under the Joseph A. Sellinger program has been cut 13 percent.

Those cuts hurt. They do real damage. They force our institutions to raise tuition and reduce financial aid budgets, subverting the state's own public policy of providing widespread access to higher education without regard to students' family circumstances.

Those cuts force us to ax programs and courses and to increase class sizes, endangering academic quality and our ability to compete with institutions in other states.

Nevertheless, we accepted the governor's proposed cuts and agreed to find a way to work within his budget.

But now there are serious proposals on the table in Annapolis to cut even more from higher education, far more. The House of Delegates wants to take another $37.1 million from USM institutions on top of the proposed $105 million cut from last year. There are recommendations that another $20 million, or 50 percent, be taken from the Sellinger program. On a per-student basis, that would return the independent colleges and universities to 1985 funding levels and wipe out more than a decade of wise additional state investments in these institutions.

These new cuts would do disproportionate and, in some cases, devastating harm to the educational mission of these schools. But if that one fact doesn't convince you of the imprudence of these proposals, consider these:

The USM employs more than 25,000 Marylanders, and the independent institutions more than 34,000. These are your neighbors, the people who shop in your stores, patronize your businesses and volunteer in your communities.

Johns Hopkins alone has added 3,000 new jobs to the state's economy in the past three years. Just imagine what kind of incentives Maryland would have offered to attract an out-of-state company with that many jobs.

Though people tend to think of them as four-year schools, the independent colleges and universities educate nearly 20,000 part-time students each year, many in biotechnology, information technology, engineering, business or other disciplines critical to Maryland employers.

In 2002, external research grants and contracts at USM institutions reached $892 million, exceeding the state's general fund appropriation for the system for the first time.

Johns Hopkins wins more federal research and development grants than any university in the country. In 2002, it ranked among the nation's top universities in patents, with 95. Johns Hopkins has spun off 24 Maryland-based start-up companies.

Total enrollment at Maryland's public colleges and universities is projected to increase by 24 percent, or by more than 56,000 students, by 2011.

The economic impact of private higher education in Maryland is $7.2 billion a year. Spending by out-of-state students and visitors to USM institutions, combined with non-Maryland-sponsored research, creates $1.76 billion in economic activity annually, supporting more than 21,000 jobs earning $580 million.

Damage these institutions, Maryland, and you do tremendous damage to our students, and that is tragedy enough.

But you also shoot yourself in the foot, doing serious harm to your economy at a time when it is brittle and weak.

This is the time when continued investment in higher education can pay the greatest dividends, when our colleges and universities can lead the way to economic recovery.

This is no time to put the Knowledge Business out of business.

William E. Kirwan is chancellor of the University System of Maryland. William R. Brody is president of the Johns Hopkins University.

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