Tuition hikes close gap between public, private education

October 19, 2003|By Ronald J. Volpe

RECENT HEADLINES have screamed about how public colleges and universities in Maryland, Virginia and across the country have predicted significant --sometimes double-digit -- increases in tuition for next year and, in some cases, in mid-year. In Maryland, it has been suggested that tuition be doubled at our flagship public university.

What has not made the news is the ever-narrowing gap between the cost of a four-year education at public and at private institutions.

Today, and this may come as a surprise, through merit scholarships and need-based grants, tuition at schools such as Goucher, McDaniel, Hood or Villa Julie colleges, is less expensive than at the University of Maryland. Also, students who earn bachelor's degrees are able to do so more quickly at private colleges and universities than at state institutions, thus avoiding additional expense.

For example, a family whose son or daughter has a B average or better and who scored at least 1,200 on the SAT could attend Hood for $300 less than the University of Maryland. Of course, these figures include financial aid, which at Hood and at the vast majority of private colleges in the United States, varies.

Some families would pay more and many would pay less, but very, very few pay "the sticker price."

The "sticker price" at the University of Maryland, College Park with tuition, room and board is about $14,000 a year. It is $27,795 at Hood.

Maryland is fortunate to have a number of outstanding private colleges and universities that have, out of necessity, been mindful of the costs to students and their families. They do this through a variety of means, including generous institutional financial aid, by use of endowments made possible by generous donors and modest support from state and federal governments.

Independent colleges like Hood, Washington, Loyola, Johns Hopkins and Mount St. Mary's set their tuition and fees using a variety of factors, but none more important than that of sensitivity to its customers and marketplace. We are forced to be affordable, or we would not be able to survive.

For instance, at Hood we chose this past year to limit our tuition increase for full-time undergraduate students to 3 percent and to freeze graduate tuition. In what some would say was a controversial move, we reduced tuition for our part-time students by more than 30 percent. The latter addressed the very real problem experienced by a segment of our population that was not benefiting from financial aid or employer tuition reimbursement programs. This is consistent with the philosophy at Hood of being a private institution with a public responsibility.

Independent colleges and universities in Maryland significantly enhance the quality of life in the state while saving millions of taxpayer dollars. These schools award 25 percent of all degrees awarded in the state, 49 percent of all master's degrees and 40 percent of all doctoral degrees.

The obvious benefit is not only to the nearly 50,000 students who are able to choose from among the many public and private colleges or universities from which they can earn their degrees, but also to our citizens. Last year, Maryland's contribution to its independent colleges was just 3 1/2 percent of its entire higher education allotment.

Make no mistake about it, the University System of Maryland, like all state-run higher education systems, is absolutely essential to Maryland and its residents. Its role and the service it provides cannot be replaced by any private enterprise. But Maryland's independent colleges and universities, offering first-rate, affordable education, are collectively one of the state's most valuable resources.

Ronald J. Volpe is president of Hood College.

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