College tuition is keeping pace with inflation, rising about 6 percent this year, the College Board reported yesterday. But officials warned that tuition could soar as the economy tightens and universities' endowments and state funds shrink.
Nationwide, tuition and fees went up 6.4 percent at public four-year universities, to $6,585, and 5.9 percent at private four-year universities, to $25,143, for the current academic year. In Maryland, tuition at state universities has been frozen for the past three years. Tuition and fees at the University of Maryland, College Park are $8,005, and less at other institutions.
Maryland's public universities, ranked the nation's sixth most expensive in 2004, are now 16th.
Members of the state Board of Regents said yesterday that they want to hold the line on tuition but worry that they will not have the funding. This month, the Board of Public Works approved a $35 million cut to the state university system budget. A spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley said it is "a priority of the governor" to keep tuition steady.
"Whether we will be able to maintain it another year is in doubt right now," said Clifford M. Kendall, chairman of the Board of Regents. "It really depends upon primarily the funding we get from the state."
Costs are increasing as the regents try to improve the system and serve more students. This fall, the system has enrolled 6,000 more students than last year, and tuition does not cover the cost of their education.
"We raise tuition when we feel that we have no option," said Regent David Nevins, adding that he hopes the governor continues to support higher education so that tuition increases are not necessary. But if they are, he has suggested allowing universities with a wealthier student demographic to raise tuition more than those that serve lower-income students.
"What's driving prices at public institutions is not that they're spending a lot more money," said Sandy Baum, a senior policy analyst at the College Board and a professor of economics at Skidmore College. "It's that they're not getting as much in appropriations per student [from the state] and they're compensating with tuition revenue."
The Consumer Price Index rose 5.6 percent from July 2007 to July 2008, about the same as tuition. Historically, tuition increases have far outstripped inflation. In the past 30 years, after adjusting for inflation, tuition and fees have gone up $4,000 at public four-year schools and $15,000 at private four-year institutions.