WASHINGTON – Tuition at Maryland’s public four-year colleges and universities has risen by almost 50 percent over the last five years and is expected to rise another 4 percent next year.
College officials acknowledge that the increases are regrettable but say they are “necessary to provide the quality the legislature wants and the students demand.”
That means paying more for academic and recreational facilities, boosting faculty salaries to compete with the private sector and keeping pace with rapidly expanding technology.
“We are trying to invest in the quality of our institutions,” said John Lippincott, vice chancellor at the University System of Maryland. “We have traditionally discussed with students the increases and they told us they are willing to pay more if they can get more.”
But some students and higher education watchdogs say universities need to tighten their belts like everybody else.
“It’s getting out of hand,” said Adriene Williams, a junior at the University of Maryland College Park. “I don’t want to say it’s a rip-off, but in a way it is.
“The costs are rising and rising and it is getting harder for us to get an education,” said Williams, who thinks more should be done to relieve the financial burden on students.
The average tuition and fees at Maryland public four-year colleges rose from $2,880 in 1993 to $4,310 in 1998, according to data from the Maryland Higher Education Commission, an increase of $1,430 per student, or 49.66 percent.
During the same five-year period, the Consumer Price Index never rose more than 3 percent a year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nationally, public college tuition rose about 4 percent last year, which meant an average increase of $66 to $723 per student, according to the College Board. Those increases were attributed to the colleges’ need to compete for better faculty and better facilities.
But Jamie Merisotis, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, said colleges need to develop management systems that minimize waste and free up funds for additional programs.
“Colleges need to focus on managing money better,” he said. “Operating a college is a complex enterprise and many colleges have insufficient management systems and don’t know where the money is going so they don’t have a good idea of how to set prices.”
But Lippincott said a college budget is not like a household budget.
“The Consumer Price Index measures the average cost of items in a household shopping basket but the average university shopping basket is not the same,” he said. “The Higher Education Price Index shows the rate of cost for colleges so for example the cost of buying medical equipment is rising at a rate faster than corn flakes.”
Securing top faculty from the computer sciences field has hit college budgets hard, he said, as institutions are forced to dole out higher salaries to compete with the private sector.
He pointed to the University of Maryland College Park, which competes not only with other schools for computer faculty, but “with Intel, Microsoft and Sun Systems for those people. It has to offer top salaries to get the top people.”
Lippincott said the higher costs are being driven in part by the students themselves, who expect more than they used to. That includes Internet access in dorm rooms, recreational facilities and career counseling and planning, that schools are now expected to provide.
Merisotis agreed that “students are demanding more.”
“A lot of colleges find a greater need for higher quality services and that students are demanding more programs such as career planning and counseling than they did in the past,” he said.
Brian Carlson, president of the Student Government Association at Frostburg State University, said students are rightfully disturbed by rising costs. But colleges are doing a good job of keeping costs down in the face of reduced state funding, he said.
“It’s always frustrating for students, especially those working 20 to 40 hours a week to pay for school, to see costs go up. And it’s getting more frustrating as students have to work more to pay more,” he said.
“But I think considering the fact that state funding is falling, universities are doing a good job keeping costs down,” said Carlson.
Roy Droege, whose daughter Kathy is a junior at Frostburg State, has always budgeted for a 5 percent tuition increase for Kathy and the three other children he has put through college. He thinks the tuition he has had to pay over the years was worth every penny.
“We have had to pay a lot for our other children. We had one at Notre Dame and that hike there almost killed us,” he said. “We really think we are getting our money’s worth at Frostburg.”
Merisotis said colleges across the country are trying to develop funding systems that ease the burden on students.
“The good news is that we’ve seen some moderation in price raising. The increase in tuition costs [nationally] this year was the lowest in the last few years,” he said.
“The bad news is that the cost of college is still rising faster than inflation and has been for the last 18 years,” Merisotis said.
Lippincott said the USM Board of Regents decided last fall to limit tuition increases to 4 percent a year to keep the cost of a state college education reasonable while securing the resources necessary for a growing institution.
“We don’t want to get to the point where students look away from attending a Maryland public institution because they can’t afford to go there,” he said.
“I know no increase is a good increase and the regents know that, but they are necessary to provide the quality the legislature wants and the students demand.”