Higher-education leaders urge state funding increases

Legislative committee holds hearing on college affordability

November 21, 2003|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Maryland's higher-education leaders told a special legislative committee last night that the only way they can moderate the rise in college costs is if lawmakers again start providing reliable increases in state funding.

"The way to bring tuition increases under control is to have a balanced investment where the state pays its share and students pay their share," said University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan at the hearing on the University of Maryland campus here.

The 14-member committee, which will hold two more hearings next month, is seeking answers to the problem facing the state's public colleges: how to maintain affordability without hurting the colleges' reputations and quality.

University officials say they have had to increase tuition by more than 30 percent in two years because they were hit by more than $120 million in cuts last year and are facing flat funding this year. They say they are doing their best to limit increases by finding ways to save money, including expanding faculty workloads, without hurting the quality of their programs.

"There is nothing sacred here," said Clifford Kendall, chairman of the system's Board of Regents. "We may make recommendations that may not be palatable to everyone."

The committee was created last month by House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, amid growing concern over the rapid pace of the increases. Tuition, already among the highest in the country, went up about 20 percent at the state's largest public campuses this fall.

Next year's increase could again be as high as 20 percent, officials say, if the system doesn't get $50 million in supplemental funding, which lawmakers say is unlikely.

Last night, some lawmakers questioned university officials' claims that they need more state funding to moderate tuition increases, saying more efforts should be made to reduce spending.

"This is one of the worst fiscal crises the state has ever faced," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Calvert County Republican. "Is there ever a time we could ask you to tighten your belt?"

O'Donnell also questioned why salaries in some administrative positions had increased by more than 60 percent in the past five years.

Kendall responded that the system's administrative salaries are in line with other states' public universities and said that the system had raised pay in some cases to draw talented leaders.

"Our salaries are competitive with the [schools] we compete with to get good people," Kendall said.

The hearing was supposed to allow for comments from students and other members of the public, but testimony by more than a dozen higher-education officials ran more than three hours. Several UM students who came to address lawmakers were still waiting at 10:15 p.m.

"I'm really kind of disappointed," said Stuart McPhail, a senior from Howard County. "It's contrary to the entire purpose of having [the hearing] here."

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