WASHINGTON – Maryland has a large number of students going to college, but many are struggling to afford it, according to a state-by-state report card on higher education released Thursday.
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gave Maryland A’s for the number of state residents going to college and for the societal benefits that come from that schooling. But the state got a D for the affordability of its colleges and universities.
That affordability ranking is “most depressing,” said Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, and a board member for the national center.
“It indicates many Maryland families are not able to send off their children to the colleges and universities in this state,” said Rawlings, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
But a spokesman for the Maryland Higher Education Commission countered that the average annual cost of $4,310 for a state four-year college in 1999 was “a lot of money but still affordable.”
Tuition and fees ranged from about $4,700 a year at the University of Maryland, College Park to $3776 at Salisbury State University, said James Welsh, the commission spokesman.
“The idea of getting a D is very relative,” said Welsh, noting that Maryland’s grade was based on comparisons to other states, and that schools here are “still not prohibitively expensive.”
“Even though relative to some states Maryland might be higher, it’s well within reach,” he said.
Welsh said affordability of Maryland’s colleges and universities “has been foremost in the governor’s mind recently.” He said that appropriations for higher education have increased by 49 percent, from $31 million in fiscal 1995 when Gov. Parris Glendening took office, to $66 million this year.
“The money in higher education has allowed the University System of Maryland to limit tuition increases to 4 percent and the system has made a commitment to continue that cap,” Welsh said.
He also said that many new scholarship opportunities for Maryland students, especially the Hope and teacher scholarships, have also helped lower the burden of cost.
But Rawlings said the scholarships have not helped everyone in Maryland.
“A lot of focus has been on the Hope Scholarship, which is merit-based financial aid,” Rawlings said. “It doesn’t help students who need additional aid and that’s the weakness in the Maryland scholarship program. We need to do much more.”
“It is interesting to notice that the state where the Hope scholarship originated — Georgia — got a D,” he said.
Only five states got A’s in the report: North Carolina, Illinois, Minnesota, Utah and California.
Rawlings said he is very proud of Maryland’s other scores, especially its B+ for the way it prepares students for college. He attributed that to “almost a decade of school reform where the state is high nationally in setting standards, assessments and accountability.”
But, he said: “Students going on to college can do better. We only earned a B+.”
He was also pleased by the state’s A for participation. Maryland ranked first in percentage of 25-65 year-olds with bachelor’s degrees, at 37 percent, but Rawlings noted that part of that could be the number of educated people who come because of the “attractiveness of Maryland in terms of economy and research institutions.”
Welsh said the report card is proof that Maryland is doing well overall with higher education.
“It looks to me like Maryland is right at the top,” he said. “Very few states had to two A’s.”