WASHINGTON – Two top University of Maryland officials told a House education committee the burden of rising tuition is being offset by increases in financial aid, and that most students still do not pay the full price of tuition.
But University System of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan and University of Maryland College Park President C.D. Mote Jr. also told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce this week that the state must make higher education a top priority or the quality of its institutions will suffer.
Last year, the system approved a 6 percent tuition increase, despite a self-imposed increase cap of 4 percent. Kirwan said this increase was a result of cuts in state appropriations for higher education, a trend that has been evolving over the last 20 years.
“A tuition increase is inevitable because of state appropriations that are not meeting costs,” he said. “Next year, who know what’s going to happen? It’s going to be really bad.”
But despite the tuition increases, Mote said that more than 40 percent of full-time undergraduate students nationwide paid less than $4,000 a year in tuition and fees after financial assistance in 2001. The amount of financial aid the Maryland system has given students has gone from $19 million in 1992 to $55.3 million in 2001, he said.
While financial aid has kept up with tuition increases, Mote said that too much of the aid comes in the form of loans, causing many students to graduate with high debt.
Kirwan’s comments came Wednesday after the committee hearing was postponed. Mote delivered the chancellor’s prepared remarks, as well as some of his own, when the committee met Thursday. Kirwan was unable to make the Thursday meeting.
Mote and Kirwan both said the state legislature in Annapolis has not made higher education enough of a priority. State appropriations are the most significant factor in determining the system’s tuition decisions, but the amount of money earmarked for higher education has decreased recently.
“Higher education is no longer seen as a public good,” Mote said. “It’s seen as a personal benefit.”
In his statement, Kirwan noted that colleges and universities are subject to more federal regulations than many businesses: The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Product Safety Commission are the only agencies that do not regulate higher education, he said.
These regulations drive up the cost of doing business for the nation’s colleges at a time when they are already in financial difficulty, Kirwan said.
The decision to raise or lower tuition is not one that most public institutions make on their own, Kirwan said. The Maryland system’s board of directors sets the tuition for its 11 universities, but the governor and General Assembly must approve that tuition.
“Political decisions regarding tuition often are made without regard to the actual costs of higher education,” Kirwan said.
The House committee hearing on the cost of tuition was held in preparation for the expected reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 next year.