UM ignored viable options

The Education Beat

Regents: Cutting student services was just one alternative to raising tuition.

October 22, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Clarification

The $650,000 spent by the University of Maryland, College Park on a two-year marketing campaign in 2001 and 2002 came from privately raised funds, not from tuition revenue, as I implied in Wednesday's column.

IT WAS pure coincidence, of course, that the University of Maryland Board of Regents repaired to Frostburg State University, far from the state's media centers and the madding crowd at College Park, to approve the latest round of tuition increases.

And the scary part is that this may not be the end of it. Indeed, 30 percent over two years may be just the beginning. Regent Richard E. Hug, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s chief campaign fund-raiser, thinks doubling tuition over the next five years would be just fine. It would bring in $600 million, Hug says, and keep the university system's quality on par with "peers" in North Carolina and Illinois.

No wonder students are denouncing these hand-over-fist jumps in tuition as "tax increases" and forming a political action committee to fight them. And no wonder there is talk in Congress and the General Assembly of controlling public college tuition legislatively.

Last week, Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, the California Republican who heads the chief House subcommittee on higher education, introduced a bill that would penalize colleges by preventing them from participating in some federal aid programs if they raise prices too high. Illinois took a different tack: Its legislature locked in tuition at freshman-level prices for each new class at the state's public colleges and universities.

Maryland's university system rightfully enjoys autonomy, and it would be a shame to see federal or state limits on tuition. Price controls almost never work, anyway. But despite all the earnest declarations from University System of Maryland officials that they're gasping from belt-tightening, despite layoffs that are very real and painful to those who have lost jobs, there's evidence that the system could find more savings if it looked hard enough.

It could sell the chancellor's Hidden Waters mansion in Baltimore County for at least $3 million. It could sell the Guilford mansion purchased foolishly for former Towson University President Mark L. Perkins for at least $1 million, getting some money back from a monumental blunder.

It could cut back on marketing. This week's Chronicle of Higher Education features a cover story on the University of Maryland, College Park's embracing of such commercial techniques as "branding" to earn national notice. The marketing blitz, launched in 2001, cost $650,000.

The university could cut back on student amenities. Today's students are coddled to the extreme. In place of forcing them to pay more, force them to pay the same for less. Undergraduate campuses are extremely inefficient, which is why proprietary schools like Strayer University and the University of Phoenix, which serve primarily working adults, are able to operate with competitive tuition and still make a profit. They're not running football stadiums and dining halls, and they know that tuition gouging will only chase students to less expensive competitors.

"In our sector, a 20 percent increase would force students to move elsewhere," said Robert S. Silberman, chairman of Strayer Education Inc., founded in 1892 as a business college in Baltimore. "For our students, it's an unemotional decision."

Finally, there's a symbolic gesture the top honchos in the university system could make. They could set a comfortable salary level - say $130,000 - and ask anyone earning more than that to give back 20 percent each year until the financial crisis eases. That might not save a whole lot of money, but it would send a message to students and their parents (not to mention Ehrlich) that university officials are willing to share the pain.

Western High to honor longtime athletic director

Eva G. Scott had walked by the "girls' locker room" sign at Western High School that marked the gymnasium entrance for so many years that she didn't notice its larger replacement, installed recently: "Eva G. Scott Athletic Center." At a reception and dinner Saturday, that's how they'll officially name the gym at Baltimore's only public high school for girls.

Western's first African-American teacher wore a hat and white gloves to an employment interview at the school in 1958. "A lot of people weren't ready for me," Scott remembers. "The principal insisted I'd never work at her school."

But she did, as physical education department head and athletic director for 41 years. Even after her retirement in 1999, Scott, 68, returned to teach part time.

"One of the most memorable things about Eva is that despite the thousands of girls she taught and coached, she remembers most of their names," says Sandra L. Wighton, who worked at Western for 17 years, 15 as principal.

Many of those former students will be there Saturday. "It's really kind of overwhelming," says Scott.

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