O'Malley vows UM tuition freeze

But governor expects fight with Assembly leaders seeking increase

January 15, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

Gov. Martin O'Malley vowed yesterday to freeze tuition at most of Maryland's public colleges for a third consecutive year, but he acknowledged a likely fight over the issue with legislative leaders who have said tuition should be increased.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has said tuition should be increased to offset necessary budget cuts, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch said yesterday that he supports a tuition increase of no more than 3 percent.

"Senate President Miller and I have a disagreement," O'Malley, a Democrat, said yesterday at a news conference at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

He said Busch's 3 percent limit "articulates a pretty good goal for the future, but for the present, I'm going to do everything I can to fight for at least another year of zero percent increases in college tuitions."

The governor proposes to pay for the in-state tuition freeze with about $16 million in revenue expected to be generated by the increase from 7 percent to 8 percent in the corporate income tax passed during November's special legislative session.

O'Malley has dedicated half of the income tax increase to a permanent higher education fund, which, it is estimated, will receive $55 million in fiscal year 2009. While it represents a fraction of the state universities' more than $1 billion cumulative operating budgets, the fund is Maryland's first revenue stream dedicated to colleges.

Flanked by UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski Jr. and university system Chancellor William E. Kirwan, O'Malley said he would propose spending the rest of the fund to boost enrollments, invest in work force development and help low-income and minority students.

Under former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, tuition at Maryland public colleges increased about 40 percent. "We have not yet undone the damage that was done," O'Malley said.

Andrew M. Friedson, student body president of the University of Maryland, College Park, said after the news conference that even a modest tuition increase "will adversely affect a huge number of our students."

St. Mary's College of Maryland, a small public campus in Southern Maryland, is not included in the tuition freeze proposal, officials said.

O'Malley said his proposed budget will also include about $202 million in capital funds for public four-year colleges, $81 million for building projects at 13 community colleges and $8 million for the state's private campuses.

In other higher-education matters coming before lawmakers this session, Sen. Joan Carter Conway has reintroduced a twice-failed bill aimed at dismantling Towson University's master's of business administration program.

Supporters of the bill argue that the state's 2005 decision to let Towson offer an MBA violated federal and state desegregation laws since the degree is available at nearby Morgan State University in Baltimore, a historically black university.

Last year, different versions of the bill passed both legislative chambers, but they were not reconciled in committee.

Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., a St. Mary's County Democrat who heads the education subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, said he did not think Conway's version - which would allow Morgan to sue the state over the dispute - would pass his chamber.

Conway, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said she is not open to Bohanan's proposed compromise of referring the dispute to binding arbitration.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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