Regents weigh cost-cut steps

Md. university system hopes to save millions

More courses for teachers

Ideas include penalties for not graduating on time

October 19, 2004|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Maryland's public university students would face financial penalties for taking longer than four years to graduate and faculty members would have to teach more courses under a cost-saving plan being recommended by top University System of Maryland officials.

The 16-point plan also calls for a review of the role of the University of Baltimore and three lesser-known institutions. Several of the authors said they hope that will lead to discussion of whether UB should be merged with another school.

The proposals -- which would save $26.6 million next fiscal year -- are outlined in a report by a committee of the university system's Board of Regents, scheduled to be formally presented to the board Friday. A copy was obtained by The Sun.

Among its recommendations:

Encouraging students to graduate faster by requiring them to take 12 credits through online courses, internships or other nontraditional classes and limiting most degree programs to 120 credits. If students take too many credits beyond 120 -- in effect, if they take longer than four years to graduate -- they would be subject to increased costs. One idea is to charge Maryland residents higher out-of-state tuition rates for credits above 132.

Increasing faculty workload by 10 percent. Professors at most schools ought to teach at least seven or eight courses a year, the report says, but many now teach fewer than seven.

Using admission policies to steer more students to campuses that have unused facilities or room to grow such as Towson University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Reviewing four institutions to make sure they are not duplicating efforts and are using resources well. In addition to the University of Baltimore, the report calls for examining two research institutes -- the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and the Center for Environmental Science -- and the system's online school, the University of Maryland, University College.

Purchasing products cooperatively, reducing energy costs and selling or recycling more used furniture.

The report comes as the 11-campus system struggles with multiple problems. Its state funding has been flat over the past several years, and the regents have raised tuition by nearly 30 percent. At the same time, the schools are expecting 40,000 more students over the next decade and do not have enough space for all of them.

The 16 proposals would need approval by the full board of regents, but Chancellor William E. Kirwan said he expects it.

"It's a challenging time," Kirwan said. "You have to play the hand you're dealt."

System officials have not yet forwarded the report to state legislators, who asked the regents last year to study cost-saving options. The report was prepared by eight of the system's 17 regents -- Chairman Clifford M. Kendall, Vice Chairman David H. Nevins, Patricia S. Florestano, Richard E. Hug, former Gov. Marvin Mandel, Robert L. Mitchell, Robert L. Pevenstein and James C. Rosapepe.

Most of the academic proposals are designed to encourage students to graduate quickly. Currently, roughly half of undergraduates take six years to get their diplomas. By graduating students more rapidly, the system can have more space for incoming freshmen.

Regents who agreed to discuss the proposals said they believe the board would be willing to penalize students who take too long to graduate. "Taxpayers ought to pay for a degree, not a degree-and-a-half," said Rosapepe.

By requiring professors to teach more courses and students to take more nontraditional classes, officials believe the system can educate an additional 2,100 people over the next three years without additional state funds. That represents a value of nearly $9.5 million next year, system officials said.

The combined-purchasing and similar ideas should save the institutions $17.1 million, which can be used to help hold down tuition, Kirwan said.

Regents could also change the structure of the system. The report recommends that some regents review UB and the three other institutions to "determine if there are ways to enhance their abilities to serve the needs of the state and the overall performance" of the system.

Several regents said they have also discussed making fundamental changes to UB. Because it accepts only upperclassmen who transfer from other colleges and often attend school at night, many of its facilities are not used during the day. Some regents have suggested it could be joined with another campus.

Kirwan said that is not under consideration at this time, but some regents said the system could benefit from a discussion.

"I don't think it should happen, but we should look" at all the possibilities, said Florestano, a former Maryland higher education secretary.

Despite the proposed savings and efficiencies, system officials warned that the state still needs to increase funding.

"At most, this takes care of 20 percent of the problems," Rosapepe said. "The state still needs to come up with the funds to make sure there aren't years and years of double-digit tuition hikes."

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