Tuition boost again for Md.

Regents panel votes average increase of 10% in university system

`Students shouldering burden'

After 20% rise this fall, fee increase for next year could again go that high

October 10, 2003|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

After being hit with one of the biggest tuition increases in the country this fall, students at Maryland's public universities are in for another blow next year - a rise that could again be as high as 20 percent, regents said yesterday.

The Finance Committee of the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents voted to raise tuition at state colleges by an average of about 10 percent next school year, while warning that the increase might end up being twice that.

The vote, which is expected to be ratified by the full board next week, comes on the heels of a roughly 20 percent increase for the current year at most of the system's 11 campuses.

"Students are shouldering the burden more than anyone could have imagined," said Tim Daly, student body president at the University of Maryland, College Park. "When we got a 20 percent increase last year, no one thought we'd get another 20 percent increase the next year."

Under the rates approved yesterday, tuition for most students will have increased by more than 30 percent over two years - about $1,600 for many in-state students. And that is assuming that rates do not have to be raised even higher, which regents said is likely if Maryland lawmakers do not approve a request for additional money the system needs.

Regents and other system officials say a tuition increase of at least 10 percent is needed to offset flat state funding. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has said that the budget he'll present to the General Assembly in January will give the system the same funding it receives now, $746 million.

Under state law, the legislature can reduce that allocation, but not add to it.

While that level of funding would spare the university system the kind of deep cuts suffered last year, officials say it would leave them short of $71 million needed to meet increased costs, such as higher utility rates, the expense of operating new buildings and a 2 percent pay raise that Ehrlich is seeking for system employees.

System officials say they will try to cover about $17 million of the higher costs through greater efficiency. But under the plan approved yesterday, most of the gap would be closed with the $55 million raised through higher tuition fees. Further cost-cutting, officials said, would imperil the system's quality and reputation.

"Our goal here is not to increase tuition. It is to continue to allow our institutions to enhance themselves and to build perhaps one of the finest collections of institutions in the country," said Regent David H. Nevins, the Finance Committee chairman.

Chancellor William E. Kirwan told regents they would likely have to consider raising tuition by even more than the 10 percent if lawmakers turn down the system's request for $61 million in supplemental funds over and above the $746 million.

The system is seeking the additional money to pay for increased financial aid, to cover costs of higher enrollment and to "rebuild momentum" in the system with $26 million in "enhancements," such as hiring new faculty.

The rates approved yesterday would raise full-time in-state tuition at the University of Maryland, College Park by 11.4 percent, to $6,200; by 8 percent at Towson University, to $4,890; and by 9.9 percent at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to $6,120.

The higher rates were opposed by only two of the 13 regents at the meeting, student representative D. Philip Shockley and former state Del. James C. Rosapepe, who called the increases "dream-killing ... for middle-class Marylanders who just want to get a quality education."

Also opposing the increases were several dozen university system employees and students who attended the meeting at Towson University, some carrying protest signs. Student leaders and members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees say the system could avoid big tuition increases - and layoffs - by reducing administrative pay and cutting back on new construction.

"Students are footing the entire bill for cost containment," said Daly, the student president.

The increases partly overshadowed what was expected to be the highlight of the meeting: the first public pitching of an idea that has been bandied about for several months by Regent Richard E. Hug to double tuition over the next five years.

Hug, Ehrlich's chief campaign fund-raiser and one of the governor's first appointees to the board, says doubling rates would bring in $600 million more in funding for the system, a third of which could be plowed back into financial aid for middle-class students who now receive little help. The remaining money, he argued yesterday, could be used to further improve the system at a time when state support is flat.

"I have a vision that by the end of the decade, [the University of Maryland] can be in the top 10 of public institutions in the country," said Hug, referring to the system's flagship campus in College Park, now ranked 17th among public universities. "That is possible if we really put our shoulders to the wheel."

Hug's ideas have caused consternation among students, university officials and some regents, who say that doubling tuition would keep out many students, even with more financial aid. They worry that Hug's proposal might have Ehrlich's backing, which Hug denies.

But after yesterday's vote, several regents and students said the debate over Hug's proposal might be moot. If the system increases tuition another 20 percent next fall, it would be on track toward a doubling of tuition in five years - even without formally accepting Hug's plan.

"Everyone says it is a wild idea that's not going to happen," said UM student legislator Stuart McPhail, a senior from Sykesville. "Well, it's happening. We're on our way to doubling."

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