Tuition Rise Not Seen As Likely

Kirwan Says Um Will Find Other Ways To Cut $56 Million

August 29, 2009|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,

The state university system is unlikely to raise tuition for the spring semester despite recent orders from the governor to cut $56 million in salaries and operating costs, said Chancellor William E. Kirwan.

"I rather suspect that this cut doesn't rise to the level where the board would take that extraordinary step," he said of a midyear tuition increase, adding that the system's Board of Regents will probably discuss tuition at its Sept. 18 meeting.

Instead, the system will order employee furloughs, eliminate open positions, shift money from its cash reserves, and cut student aid and maintenance spending.

The state's four-year tuition freeze is one of Gov. Martin O'Malley's most cherished accomplishments. And despite recent suggestions from political and educational leaders that an increase is inevitable, O'Malley cushioned the budget blow enough that the system can survive without more tuition revenue, Kirwan said.

The chancellor noted that more than $10 million in additional cuts to the system were on the table as O'Malley and his advisers discussed their budget plans. If all of those cuts had been ordered, a tuition increase might have been necessary, Kirwan said.

"I think the governor has a very strong commitment to tuition stability," he said. "We're very appreciative of the fact that, in a very difficult time for the state, we were still treated as a priority."

O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said tuition was not a major factor in discussions about the latest cuts. "It would be very difficult for the Board of Regents to go back now and raise tuition after promising a freeze for this year," he said.

Adamec said there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the debate about freezing tuition during a recession. "But it's the governor's belief that this is exactly the time to do that," he said. "When government revenues are down, family revenues are down as well."

Many states around the country have increased tuition by 10 percent or more in the face of budget shortfalls. But others share O'Malley's view. In Indiana, lawmakers recently asked university officials to roll back a planned increase because cash-strapped residents are tired of rising education costs.

Kirwan said university presidents will have flexibility in how they cut budgets at their respective campuses. Some might address furlough demands by closing the campus entirely on days when no classes are scheduled. But that wouldn't be an option, for example, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, where many medical employees work.

In broad strokes, Kirwan said, the furlough plan will resemble the one implemented this spring. Under that tiered policy, the highest-paid employees, such as Kirwan and other top administrators, took as many as six unpaid days in half a year, while lower-paid employees took fewer days.

The system is likely to freeze many open positions, but Kirwan does not expect many layoffs. "You're talking about 1 percent of our base budget, so that probably doesn't add up to a significant number of job losses," he said.

Campus presidents will have several weeks to submit their budget plans to Kirwan, who will then present his overall proposal to the regents at the Sept. 18 meeting.

Many presidents have already sent e-mails to their students and employees about the cuts. College Park President C.D. "Dan" Mote invited his entire community to a town hall meeting to discuss the budget Sept. 22. UMB President David Ramsay noted that his university has tended to absorb about one-fifth of state cuts to the system but added that he will have flexibility to tailor those cuts to campus needs.

The university system isn't the only branch of higher education bracing for the effects of state cuts. O'Malley reduced state aid to community colleges by $10.5 million. The cuts will force community colleges to freeze open positions at a time when many are facing double-digit enrollment increases.

Howard Community College will freeze salaries and some open positions in part because of the loss of $653,000 in state aid, said President Kate Hetherington. The college, facing a 12 percent enrollment jump and a 20 percent to 25 percent rise in financial-aid requests, might also consider raising tuition in January.

"It's a good thing that we're growing because it shows that we're meeting the needs of our community," Hetherington said. "The challenge is in trying to serve more than you anticipated with fewer resources. That's the strain that you feel."

Anne Arundel Community College already raised tuition going into this year and will have to look for other ways to make up for a $1.4 million loss in state aid, said spokeswoman Linda Schulte. For example, the college recently paved over tennis courts to create 140 parking spots instead of building a new lot. And students will have fewer hot meal choices in the cafeteria.

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