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Md. Budget Crisis Could End O'malley Tuition Freeze

July 23, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

Additional savings came from fund swaps. The biggest: cutting $75 million from the state's budget for Medicaid, the state's health insurance program for the poor, and replacing that amount with federal dollars.

That move was made possible because Maryland's rising unemployment rate triggered eligibility for more federal economic stimulus funds.

Wednesday was the fifth time during O'Malley's tenure that the Board of Public Works, which approves emergency cuts when state lawmakers are not in session, has kept Maryland from going into the red. The reductions have been prompted by a gap between expected and real state revenues, which has widened because of the recession.

"This has become an all-too-familiar, and, frankly, dreary, summertime tradition," Franchot said. "It isn't easy for anybody, but it has to be done."

On Wednesday, Franchot and Kopp joined a chorus of state leaders, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, in urging O'Malley to end the college tuition freeze, an effort that Franchot said is "commendable, but no longer practical."

Six years ago, after years of steep tuition increases, Maryland had the sixth-most expensive public universities in the country. Kirwan said he thinks figures due out this fall will show the state in about 20th place.

Maryland is one of the few states that have been able to keep tuition steady in a time of financial crisis. Thirty-five states decided to raise their college tuition for this fall, according to the American Council on Education. Florida plans a 10 percent increase, New York plans a 14 percent increase and California plans a 10 percent increase along with a reduction in enrollment. A recent report by the College Board says tuition costs at public universities will increase an average of 14.1 percent this year, compared with 6.1 percent at private colleges.

"Everywhere we look, we see substantial tuition increases," said Terry Hartle, senior vice president for the American Council on Education. "States are kind to higher education when times are good, but at times like this they tend to say, 'You know, those students look a lot like paying customers.' "

Public universities have endured past tuition increases without substantial changes in their programs, Hartle said. But with so many states facing deep financial crises, "we might be entering an era of significant decline in support," he added. "Then the question becomes, can public institutions continue to do everything they have in the past?"

Hartle praised O'Malley for holding the line on tuition for as long as he has.

"I don't think any state has done a better job this decade," Hartle said. "It's good for Maryland, because it keeps the best students in the state."

Baltimore Sun reporters Laura Smitherman and Childs Walker contributed to this article.

Comparing tuition

The freeze has helped keep in-state tuition and fees at the University of Maryland, College Park below those at flagship campuses in nearby states:

College Park: $8,053

University of Delaware: $8,540

University of Virginia: $9,680

Rutgers: $11,886

Penn State: $13,604

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